Recording Industry Unveils "Madison Project" In Response To MP3

With the advent of the MP3 format, some believe that the internet has become a pirate record store by offering free bootlegs of copyrighted material that can be readily disseminated -- but now the industry is fighting back.

On Monday, five major recording companies announced that they would test their own online digital downloading and distribution system using IBM-developed software. The so-called "Madison Project," as it has been dubbed, will start trial runs this spring and will be available only in the San Diego area to Time-Warner's Roadrunner cable modem subscribers.

Hoping that better quality and the access to rare catalog titles might tempt consumers away from the free MP3 files, Warner Bros., Universal Music, Sony, BMG and EMI have promised a startup cache of 1,000 full-length albums and a few hundred singles -- all available for quick downloading on CD recorders, tapes or digital mini-discs.

Experts estimate that the average 60-minute album will take

somewhere between three to ten minutes to download, with subscribers then billed for each recording they have digitally received -- although a pricing plan has not been determined for the service. Files containing each individual album's graphics and liner notes will also be available for download and print-out via a color printer.