SEATTLE (AP) _ EMI Recorded Music is taking a major plunge into selling downloadable music online, teaming up with Microsoft Corp. to put more than 100 albums on sale in the Windows Media format, the companies said Friday.

In the first large-scale test of digital music sales, the EMI albums _ by artists ranging from the Smashing Pumpkins and D'Angelo to Frank Sinatra and George Thorogood _ will be available for downloading to personal computers via various online music sellers as of 12:01 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday, the companies said.

Each music file will have use restrictions written into the software code, limiting the number of times a customer can copy the file for personal use. That helps circumvent a major concern of record labels and artists, who worry that perfect-sounding digital bootlegs would quickly make record sales dive.

``Consumers have spoken loudly that they'd like to get their music on something other than round silver platters,'' said Jay Samit, senior vice president at EMI. ``Now, we can be assured of not only the quality of the music being delivered, but the security and copyright issues as well.''

Unlike the popular MP3 digital audio format, the Windows Media format generally has higher quality playback while taking up less storage memory. Also, Microsoft's copyright-management software has made points with record labels.

``This is a huge move by a record label like EMI,'' said Kevin Unangst, group product manager for Microsoft's digital media division. ``For them to choose the Windows Media format is just great news, obviously for us, but for consumers, too.''

Digital-rights protection remains an issue within the music industry, especially with wildly popular file-sharing software such as Napster, which makes distributing digital music and other files very easy.

But Samit said the technology has arrived to solve the problem, and record labels can no longer ignore the potential of Internet distribution, especially with the proliferation of portable music players, handheld computers and even PC-based music systems.

``About a year ago, we still had a lot of Luddites in the music industry,'' he said. ``That day is long gone and there's a great market out there.''

Samit stressed that the album offerings are part of an open-ended test, designed to gauge consumer reaction as well as to tweak the technology behind digital music sales.

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On the Net: http://www.windowsmedia.com

http://www.emimusicpub.com