The digital music distribution business continues to generate heavy activity, with news yesterday that US retail giant Wal-Mart and UK live music promoter The Mean Fiddler are launching music buying services, and reports that litigation against US music sharers has reached the Universities.

In Tuesday's new wave of 532 suspected music pirates, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) targeted suspects at over 20 universities, including the Napster-friendly Penn State Uni. 89 of the suits are against people using university networks to distribute music using peer-to-peer services.

On the new wave of litigation, RIAA president Cary Sherman said: "Lawsuits are an important part of the larger strategy to educate file sharers about the law, protect the rights of copyright owners and encourage music fans to turn to legitimate services."

Stressing that "no-one is immune" from the impact of illegal music sharing using peer-to-peer, Sherman said: "Piracy, which is particularly rampant on college campuses, continues to hurt retailers, musicians, producers, record labels and the thousands of less-celebrated individuals involved in making music."

Aggressive litigation designed to protect record industry revenues and the success of new digital music distribution services – chiefly Apple's iTunes Music Store – is offering an opportunity for new entrants to the market. The US digital music market is expected to be worth $1.6 billion in 2008, according to analysts at Jupiter Research. It was worth $80 million in the US last year, they claim.

Enumerating the state of today's digital music industry, Jupiter Research analyst David Card said: "There are probably dozens of companies offering music downloads, fewer offering subscription services, and I seriously doubt that any of them are making any money".

Wal-Mart launches service

Wal-Mart yesterday officially launched the online music store it began testing in December, Music Downloads. The service undercuts existing rivals with an 88 cents per track price across a selection of 300,000 songs. Wal-Mart music is available in WMA (Windows Media Audio) format only. It's believed the retail chain has exercised its buying muscle in order to offer the 88 cent price point – Wal-Mart also sells physical CDs, which gave it leverage in negotiating price.

The digital music gold rush has also generated excitement in the UK. The UK's largest live music promoter The Mean Fiddler (which has a massive range of venues across the country and runs the Reading and Leeds festivals) yesterday announced its plans to launch a music download service.

The company has signed agreements with Warner and BMG, and told BBC it "expects to sign deals with other majors before the service launches in April". Scheduled to launch in the UK initially, Mean Fiddler plans to launch in Europe, the US and Asia. The service will be called Mean Fiddler Media and will be available online and through mobile phones.

"The business has been launched in response to current market demands for legal competitively priced music downloads," the group told the BBC. The company also plans to sell live content captured at its chain of venues.