International independent music labels have grouped together in a deal that enables them to start selling tunes on MySpace, the social networking website owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

The global deal follows an announcement at the Midem music conference in Cannes by the indie music companies – representing a third of the world’s music market – that they were creating Merlin, a licensing agency that serves as a one-stop shop for artists such as The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys and Tom Waits.

The download deal, which was agreed between Merlin and Snocap (which provides technology for MySpace’s music retailing efforts) is the social networking site’s first with record labels.

MySpace has been vocal in its desire to become one of the biggest digital music stores. While the website’s users have been able to buy music from unsigned artists on MySpace, digital management rights issues, which protect copyright, have prevented the leading recording groups from making similar agreements.

Last November, Universal Music sued MySpace for unauthorised copying and distribution of its artists’ songs and videos among its users.

The indie artists’ downloads will be sold as unprotected MP3 files enabling them to be played on all digital music players, including Apple’s iPod. Copyright protection has been the key issue preventing big record labels signing similar deals.

Digital rights management, the code that restricts reproduction of music by individuals and interoperability between devices, has been a source of intense debate among technology companies and the large music groups.

Speaking at Midem, Rob Glaser, chairman and chief executive of RealNetworks, the digital media company, argued that the various rival codes, which often prevented a song downloaded on one device to be moved to another, were a “straitjacket” and a barrier to digital music sales.

However, some record
companies have said DRM is essential in preventing piracy.

The independent music companies’ agreement with MySpace could also provide the music majors – Vivendi’s Universal Music, Sony BMG, EMI and Warner Music – with ammunition in their attempts to consolidate.

Those behind the creation of the licensing agency said the collective volume meant that independents became a “virtual fifth major”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
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