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Universal licenses songs for downloads

SpiralFrog, a new advertising-supported music service,  said it would make Universe Music's catalog available for free legal downloading in the United States and Canada.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Universal Music, home to artists such as U2, The Killers and Audioslave, will make its catalog of recordings and music videos available for free on an ad-supported Web site launching later this year, the site's operator said Tuesday.

The two-year deal calls for New York-based to split advertising revenue with the recording company, said Lance Ford, chief marketing and sales officer for SpiralFrog.

Users can download an unlimited number of songs or music videos if they register at the site.

The tracks cannot be burned to a CD, but users will be able to transfer music to portable media players equipped with Microsoft Windows digital rights management software, Ford said.

However, the service will not work with Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh computers or its market-leading iPod music players.

Offering music and video for free on ad-supported Web sites is not new, but such services have generally been restricted to streaming, in which music and video files are not stored on a user's computer, limiting playback to when there is an Internet connection. SpiralFrog will offer downloads, permitting playback offline and on portable devices.

SpiralFrog will require users to return to the site and renew registration at least once a month or the tracks cease to play.

The company is in talks with other major recording companies on similar deals, Ford said.

"They understand and support this ad model," he said.

Ford declined to disclose the value of the deal but said it included advance payments to Universal Music. The label declined to comment.

SpiralFrog hopes to appeal to music fans who now flock to online file-sharing services to download music and videos that are often pirated.

A beta version of the site is expected to go live in December. Initially, only computer users in the United States and Canada will be able to download content.

In May, online music service Napster Inc. began allowing visitors to to listen to tracks five times for free on an ad-supported site it launched to lure users to its paid subscriptions.