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Listen in Deal with Last of Top 5 Record Companies

Independent online music company Listen.com said on Monday it had clinched a licensing deal with Universal Music, becoming the first Internet song provider to feature content from the five major record labels.

Under the latest deal, Universal Music, a unit of media giant Vivendi Universal, will make its digital catalog of titles available to Listen’s Rhapsody service.

Both Listen.com and another independent service, FullAudio’s MusicNow, are competing with big-label backed services known as MusicNet and Pressplay.

Industry analysts have remained skeptical that any of these services will take off, particularly since until now, none of them, including MusicNet and Pressplay, provided music from all of the big labels.

Besides Universal, the world’s major labels include Bertelsmann Music Group, EMI Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment.

The big labels, fearing rampant online piracy, are trying to get these services off the ground as they move ahead with legal efforts to shut down unauthorized services like Kazaa and other Napster ( news – web sites) clones.

An increase in licensing to independent services like FullAudio and Listen comes as the big five have come under scrutiny by the Justice Department ( news – web sites) over whether they have withheld their libraries from smaller competitors.

MusicNet is a joint venture of Warner, EMI, Bertelsmann and RealNetworks, while Pressplay is jointly owned by Sony and Universal.

FullAudio has music licensed from EMI, Universal, Warner and BMG.

All four subscription services charge monthly fees for access to music from their collections.

Listen.com is a streaming-only service, except for a CD-burning option in its classical offering. The other services offering streaming as well as downloads on a limited basis.

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