While a New York anti-monopoly investigation may derail any label attempts to inflate online music prices, Sony CEO Howard Stringer has spoken up about his company's strategic direction.

Legal beagle vets download pricing

New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer has launched a probe into online music pricing, attempting to discover if music labels are illegally cooperating to set prices. Major labels have already received subpoenas to cooperate in the investigation, which this week extended to include music download services, such as iTunes,

Before the investigation began, labels had been pushing for more control on price - a move Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously characterised as "greedy". The news is thought to have derailed any price-fixing plans, at least for the present.

How long, Stringer?

Stringer meanwhile yesterday admitted that Sony's recent disastrous efforts to impose copy protection have landed the company in a heap of trouble, saying: "Clearly the perception out there is that we shouldn't be doing too much of that copy protection stuff."

He described the experience as symptomatic of the difficulty of trying to find a middle ground between the needs of the consumer electronics industry and the needs of the labels - and artists themselves.

"We have to walk the line at Sony, between the needs of technology and the consumer, and the rights of the artist, which we feel very strongly about," he told the Associated Press.

He also discussed the need for his company to rationalise its corporate strategy and to create better harmony between its disparate business units.

Looking to Apple's success with its iPod and its current market capitalisation (the total value of its issued shares at stock market prices) he observed: "Apple's market capitalisation is $50 billion, based on a handful (of products). We have thousands and our market cap is less than that. Is there a message in there? Can't we just keep it simpler?"