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U2 Plugs Leak with MTV

In an effort to stop the wholesale looting of U2’s forthcoming ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’ by illicit file-sharers, the band has partnered with MTV.com and VH1.com for exclusive, and legal, online streaming of the new album.

Ever since an unfinished copy of the album went missing in France in July, the band and its label have been bracing for the album to hit the net before the Nov. 23 release date.

Then last week, songs from the band’s eagerly anticipated 11th studio set began circulating online.

While it’s not known for certain whether the AWOL copy was the source of the leak, the band and its management have reportedly been scrambling in recent days to figure out a way to thwart the pirates without the logistic nightmare of rush-releasing the disc to retail outlets.

Their solution: Make How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb available for free, via streaming audio (as opposed to more easily swappable MP3 files), on the two Viacom-owned Websites beginning next Tuesday-a full week before the official drop date.

“U2 is one of the greatest rock bands in the history of music and is one of the few artists that continually acquire new fans of every generation,” Jason Hirschhorn, MTV Networks’ senior VP of digital music and media, told E! Online Wednesday. “We are honored to have them…they never disappoint.”

Certainly having the record on both Viacom sites is a coup, especially since speculation had centered on U2 releasing the album for download on Apple’s iTunes Music Store-something the band itself suggested at the time the recordings disappeared this summer.

But such a move would likely have angered traditional retailers like Best Buy and Virgin Megastore.

Those brick-and-mortar chains are already smarting over the band’s promotional pairing with Apple, which traditional retailers see as the band encouraging people to stop buying CDs and focus instead on digital music. The band is also releasing a special edition black iPod and has offered the single “Vertigo” as a download on the iTunes Website for weeks.

In addition to the free stream of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb next week, fans visiting either VH1.com or MTV.com will be able to watch the video for “Vertigo.”

The move by U2 is a compromise stopgap solution to the download dilemma. While the leak of the record could undermine sales of the foursome’s highly anticipated set, selling the album early only on iTunes would jeopardize valuable relationships already in place for what is sure to be a huge seller this fall into the Christmas season for music retailers.

The trend of streaming sneak previews of records is certainly nothing new in the music business-U2 is just the latest band to join the wide-ranging list of artists who choose to premiere part, or all of their new albums on sites like MTV.com, VH1.com, AOL music, Real Network’s Rhapsody and Napster. R.E.M. streamed its Around the Sun on the indie site MySpace Music, while Norah Jones previewed tracks from Feels Like Home on VH1.com.

MTV.com has featured exclusive album premieres from such high-profile artists as Usher and Green Day.

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