Music from Merseyside beat combo The Beatles may eventually be made available legally online, reports claim.

Representatives for The Beatles are reportedly in discussions with numerous online music providers, from small firms up to Microsoft. Cnet reports the group is asking for a "considerable sum" in return for providing exclusive online distribution rights, "perhaps for as long as a year or more".

The Beatles remain an iconic popular music band and the absence of their music from the legal digital distribution services is widely believed to encourage frustrated music consumers to choose to use peer-to-peer services to get their music. This benefits neither the band nor the legal services.

Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg told Cnet: "If they are able to come to some sort of licensing terms, it bodes very well for the online model and would probably pave the way for some of the other holdouts to come online."

The report explains the group may be seeking a partner prepared to create and manage a Beatles-branded store. It’s understood that Beatles label EMI is actively encouraging the surviving members of the group to go online.

Perhaps more than any musicians, The Beatles have always understood and actively pursued maximum control over the mechanism that delivers their music.

"In an earlier technology shift, and another example of a cautious approach, The Beatles catalogue appeared on CD well after most of the music world had already made the transition," wrote Cnet.

An anecdotal report from a music-business insider alleges that in the 1960s the band retained a self-claimed technology adviser called 'Magic Alex'. He is alleged to have been paid by the band in order to develop a technology that the group could use to prevent their fans making cassette tape copies of vinyl releases.

The Beatles are also currently actively litigating against Apple Computer as regards the use of the Apple logo in connection with music.