BT to take on pirates with free music service

BT is to launch a not-for-profit music download service in a bid to beat online music piracy via file-sharing networks.

According to a leaked 'invitation to tender' document seen by the UK's Guardian newspaper, the Internet service provider plans to roll out the service to its 5.5 million broadband users "in the near future".

BT is believed to be in talks with a number of major music rights holders, including Universal Music and EMI. The company says it will run the proposed service on a free-to-access, not-for-profit basis for the first six to nine months, after which it will introduce some form of subscription model.

The ISP will have its work cut out. So far, it has proved notoriously difficult to get users to open their wallets for a web-based music service - and BT would do well to avoid the mistakes of BskyB's subscription-only Sky Songs, which closed in December after one disastrous year.

In order to reach its recently announced milestone of one million paying customers, streaming service Spotify turned to a 'freemium' tariff offering access via mobile devices. The move followed years of disappointing growth desktop subscription numbers. Rumours suggest that BT may attempt some form of tie-in with Spotify, rather than going head-to-head against the established service.

BT's announcement is the latest outcome of talks recently convened by communications minister Ed Vaizey, between Internet service providers and rights holders, including Universal, Sony, EMI and Warner - though notably not Swedish entrepreneur Daniel Ek's Spotify.

Last week, it emerged that rights holders and UK ISPs were preparing a voluntary agreement to create a 'blacklist' of sites that would be blocked for allegedly facilitating illegal downloading.

The blacklist is being negotiated as an interim measure, after the granting of a request for judicial review of the controversial Digital Economy Act. The legal challenge came from BT and fellow ISP TalkTalk, and has led to a two-year delay in the Act's inplementation. The judicial review is expected to finish at London's High Court today - though a verdict is not expected for around six weeks.