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Brigitte Bardot

Universal Music Opens European Vaults for Digital Downloads
Published January 26, 2006

The company is embarking on a program to digitize 100,000 out of print European recordings, beginning with 3,000 British, French and German albums

Universal Music, the world's biggest record label, is digging deep into its vaults to release download-only recordings from its vast back catalogue.

The company said it is embarking on a program to digitize 100,000 out of print European recordings, beginning with 3,000 British, French and German albums from artists such as Marianne Faithfull, Brian Auger and Brigitte Bardot.

"Over the next three to four years, we aim to reissue perhaps as many as 10,000 albums for downloading, which amounts to more than 100,000 tracks," said Barney Wragg, senior vice president of Universal Music Group International's eLabs division. "This programme will offer material that, in some cases, goes back to the early days of recorded music."

The digitized songs, many of which have only been published on vinyl LPs, will then go to Universal's online music partners such as Apple's (AAPL.O: Quote, Profile, Research) iTunes Music Store.

The initiative -- carried out after Universal digitized all of its active catalogue -- reflects the new reality of Internet music stores where "shelf space" is effectively infinite, and a large proportion of sales come from the long tail of non-blockbusters.

Digitizing music, particularly back-catalogue recordings, can be complicated by the fact that older contracts with musicians and publishers did not include digital rights. That adds a tangle of red tape to the task of converting analogue tapes or vinyl into a digital file that can played by a computer or a device like Apple's iPod.

Universal Music is owned by France's Vivendi Universal (EAUG.PA: Quote, Profile, Research) .