As speculation regarding Apple's music-service plans mounts, news from record giant EMI shows how far the music business has come in recognizing the Internet as a viable form of music distribution.

EMI yesterday placed 90 per cent of its catalogue online - including artists such as Coldplay, Robbie Willliams and David Bowie. The offering consists of over 140,000 tracks from over 3,000 artists. In a killer punch, the group announced that singles from its talent roster would be made available as soon as they reach radio station networks - which happens sometimes months before singles reach the shops.

Download and burn The company is working with an initial clutch of 20 online retailers to deliver the service. EMI has also considered what it is its customers may want from music downloads. Customers will be able to copy tracks to portable music players and burn their legally-acquired tracks to CDs. Mac users will be locked out of the initial offering, however, as the music giant is using OD2's distribution platform initially, which utilizes Microsoft's Rights Manager v.7 software. Speculation claims this may change soon, subject to Apple's "Music to your ears:" announcement next week.

Distribution crucial Retailers participating in the initial launch phase include HMV, Freeserve, BT Openworld’s Dotmusic and Telewest Broadband’s Blueyonder ISP service in the UK, Alapage, Fnac and Wanadoo in France, media saturn e-business, Karstadt, Kontor and WOM in Germany, Los40 in Spain plus MSN’s sites in the UK and France, Tiscali’s sites in the UK, Netherlands, France, Italy and Germany, and MTV’s sites in the UK, Netherlands, France, Italy and Germany. EMI notes that "other distributors are expected to join the program in due course."

Safe and legal delivery Chairman & CEO, EMI Recorded Music UK & Ireland Tony Wadsworth said: "This is a significant initiative because it brings many new features to the online offering.  EMI has a vast digital catalogue and is now providing consumers with the music they want in a way that is faster, safer and more adaptable than is currently available on any of the current services - and it's legal!"

Emmanuel de Buretel, chairman and CEO of EMI Recorded Music Continental Europe, said: "EMI is embracing the digital world by making more music from more artists from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands legally available online in new and flexible ways. We are using new technology to benefit both artists and consumers by massively expanding the amount of music available securely online."