Virgin and Universal Launching Unlimited Music Download Service

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The UK’s Virgin Media and the world’s biggest music label Universal Music have announced a partnership that will create a new music subscription service—however, unlike existing DRM-protected subscription services where music turns into useless bits once your subscription expires, subscribers to Universal and Virgin’s service will be able to download as many tracks and albums as they want in MP3 format…and keep them forever.

Both companies are billing the forthcoming service as a first for the industry.

“In terms of both convenience and value, our new music service will be superior to anything that’s available online today and provides a fair deal for both consumers and artists,” said Virgin Media CEO Neil Berkett, in a statement. “There is no better example of Virgin Media’s commitment to harnessing digital technology to give customers what they want, when they want, and how they want.”

The service is slated to launch later this year, and will be priced at approximately £10–15 per month (roughly $16 to $25 a month USD). The companies also plan an “entry level” version of the service for folks who download some music regularly, but who aren’t interested in an all-you-can-eat service. Users will be able to both stream and download music from the service.

In another move that sees an ISP working as an agent of copyright enforcement for the music industry, Virgin has also pledged to work to prevent content piracy using the new service. It will do so, in part, by educating users, but also shutting off cable Internet service for persistent offenders. ISPs working as copyright enforcers is a controversial move, but one that the content industry has been urging for years. Earlier this year, Irish ISP Eircom agreed to shut down connections of users downloading music illegally, as part of a settlement with record companies.

The service is expected to appeal to parents concerned that children may be breaking the law or bringing spyware and malware onto their computers by illegally downloading music via P2P networking services or illegal sites. It’s a sure bet the entire music industry will be watching the experiment carefully: if content creators can get ISPs and service providers to do copyright enforcement work, they may be willing to publish more content in DRM-free formats that are more appealing to consumers.