Universal Music, the music arm of struggling media conglomerate Vivendi Universal, has made a major commitment to digital-music distribution, releasing 1,000 albums for download through EMusic.com.

EMusic is the digital-music distribution arm of Universal. Among the artists included in the new licensing program are: BB King; Jimmy Buffett; the Four Tops; Joe Cocker; Ringo Starr and Stevie Wonder.

It's not a free-for-all, however: individual tracks will only be available to registered EMusic subscribers. The company's catalogue consists of over 200,000 songs in MP3 format; tracks are available to subscribers for between $9.99 to $14.99 per month. Paid subscribers are permitted to burn MP3s to CD, or transfer them to portable-music devices – which other such services don't allow.

Commenting on the albums released to EMusic, Larry Kenswil, president of the eLabs division of Universal Music Group, told Reuters: “It's the sort of stuff that has trouble getting into the rack these days – stuff that deserves to find a broader audience.”

He also explained: “There is clearly huge demand for music delivered digitally and we want to support as many innovative online music services as possible. In order to continue to assess the market, we hope to enter into similar agreements for this segment of our catalog with other subscription services.”

EMagic CEO Robin Richards remarked: “Vivendi Universal is committed to being a worldwide pioneer in distributing all types of content to consumers over the Internet and other next-generation platforms. This digital delivery agreement between UMG and EMusic is a milestone for the industry and a clear example of that leadership.”

EMusic is offering interested parties a free two-week trial of its service.