Real Networks disputes Apple's iTunes claim to be the first digital music service to offer the Rolling Stones' compete back catalogue.

The competing company runs the Rhapsody music service. It briefly grabbed media attention last year when its developers made it possible to play tracks bought from Real on an iPod.

Apple condemned that move then, saying: "We are stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker to break into the iPod". Real's songs no longer play on iPods.

'We were there first'

A Real representative contacted Macworld UK late last night to dispute Apple's claims.

"You incorrectly state that Apple is offering a far more extensive catalogue of Rolling Stones tunes than have been available through our Rhapsody service," they said.

The complaint continued: "In fact, Rhapsody has offered the entire Rolling Stones catalogue, including all of the band's releases on Virgin, EMI and Abkco, since August 2003, when the band selected Rhapsody as the first-ever online music service to offer its music," he claimed, citing a press release from the company.

Does streaming count?

However, the release only mentions the band's EMI Virgin releases - just 18 albums were available for purchase and download, the rest of the band's catalogue was only available for streaming to Rhapsody subscribers.

A report at that time from USA Today confirmed this: "Older LPs such as 1967's Between the Buttons, whose rights are owned by Abkco, are available only for listening," it explained.

Following discussion with Macworld UK, Real conceded that its 2003 press release discussed only the Stones' EMI catalogue: "At the time, Abkco didn't want to make a lot of hullabaloo about the news".

The reply also changed the emphasis of the complaint.

Initially, Real claimed it had "offered" the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue through Rhapsody; in response to questions it conceded that by this it meant "available for streaming".

The disputed claim was that "Apple offers a far more extensive catalogue" of Stone's songs than Real does.

Apple offers (three) more

Apple claims: "The iTunes Music Store is the only online music service in the world to feature the complete digital music catalogue of the Rolling Stones."

Apple's offering includes three new Rolling Stones songs taken from the band's forthcoming album, "A Bigger Bang", (available now for pre-order from iTunes).

Rhapsody does not presently offer the new tracks, meaning Apple has the most extensive catalogue, available for purchase and download in twenty countries.

This is the first time the entire catalogue has been available for digital purchase and download, independently of a tethered subscription service.

Rhapsody's service is only available in the US, so only US users can subscribe to it.

The Rolling Stones's local London representatives have been contacted for comment. Apple has been approached for comment.

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