Sony has announced plans to launch its own digital music download service.

It will launch an iTunes-alike service in Japan early next year, followed by a spring launch for its "Net Music Download" service in the US and Europe.

Speaking at a conference in Paris, vice-chairman and head of entertainment operations, Sir Howard Stringer, claimed that piracy had cost the music industry $7 billion in the past two years. He added: "Better digital rights management will allow us to protect and manage content".

The decision to launch its own service is part of Sony's attempt to combat music piracy.

File sharing networks such as Kazaa and Morpheus are accused of undermining global music sales. Critics counter that the labels are undermining themselves, by failing to reflect music's diversity in their releases and by breaking their links with consumers as they engage in extreme tactics to end file sharing.

Earlier this week Universal Music, the world's largest record company, which has artists including U2, Eminen and Sir Elton John on its roster, said it was cutting prices by up to 30 per cent in an attempt to invigorate the American music-market.

Sony will follow Apple by launching a handheld device to download songs, but they will also licence the underlying media technologies such as OpenMG copy protection and technical interfaces to other hardware companies. Sony claims the service will be available on portable music players, PCs and other audio devices.

Sony will disclose no further information about the plans until it is closer to launch.