MP3.com has announced a licensing agreement with Broadcast Music Inc (BMI), that will allow MP3.com to offer up to 45 million songs from its site.

The announcement is a small step towards legitimacy, after MP3.com was recently found liable for copyright law infringement, according to industry observers.

This follows a major setback for Napster last Friday during an MP3-related case. Napster filed a motion for summary judgement as part of its defence of a lawsuit brought against it by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) - this was rejected by US District Court Judge Marilyn Patel, and the case will now go to trial. Napster's software lets users of MP3 technology locate MP3 files on the Web and trade them.

Legitimate Napster's attorney, Laurence Pulgram, said that his client is planning to use several other defences now that the case is going ahead. Among those the company will use is the claim that many songs are authorized for distribution over Napster.com

Patel's decision is the second victory for the RIAA, which is hoping to control what it considers Internet piracy and copyright violations. Recording artists and their record companies have increasingly been angered by what they say is unauthorized use of their work by the likes of Napster and MP3.com.

On April 28, MP3.com suffered defeat in a lawsuit filed by the RIAA, which claimed the company was violating copyright laws by allowing users to download copyright-protected songs from its Web site to their hard drives. The RIAA sued MP3.com on behalf of its members for $150,000 for each title the company has in its database, which could amount to billions of dollars in damages.

Trouble New York District Court Judge Jed Rakoff granted partial summary judgement in favour of the RIAA, ruling that MP3.com was liable for copyright infringement. Damages have not yet been determined, and the judge is expected to file details of his decision soon.

Meanwhile, MP3.com's agreement with BMI, one of the few bright spots in its ongoing relationship with the music establishment, concerns the myMP3.com service, which allows users to download songs from personalized accounts on the company's Web site.

Cover The license covers performing rights for songs, but not other music copyright interests or other copyright holders, such as record companies, according to a statement from BMI. This means the pact does not cover, for example, "mechanical" rights - the copyright for a specific recording of a song that is owned by a record label, according to an official at MP3.com who asked not to be named.

On the other hand, the license would cover a recording of a performance of a song by the composer as long as the composer hadn't sold or given the copyright for that particular recorded performance to a third party, the MP3.com official said. The pact with BMI could also let MP3.com offer its users "covers" of songs - songs performed by people other than the composer, in cases where performance copyrights are not held by major recording labels, the official added.