U.S.-based eMusic, which claims to be the world's second biggest digital-music retailer after Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, has set up beta Web sites ahead of possible U.K. and European launche

U.S.-based eMusic, which claims to be the world's second biggest digital-music retailer after Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, has set up beta Web sites ahead of possible U.K. and European launches.

The retailer's unique selling point is its catalog of more than one million songs that are encoded in the open MP3 format, with no digital rights management limitation.

This means its catalog can be downloaded and played on any digital-music device, including the Apple iPod.

According to information posted on the eMusic beta sites for the United Kingdom and Europe, visitors can choose 25 tracks for free-to-download from a catalog of more than one million titles.

Once the two-week trial period ends, customers pay just £0.22 ($0.41) or less per track.

The beta sites' registration form requests credit or debit card details for three subscription packages: £8.99 ($17) for 40 downloadable songs, £11.99 ($22.70) for 65 downloads, and £14.99 ($28.30) for 90 songs.

However, unlike rival subscriptions services currently on offer -- which generally allow the user to rent songs for the duration of their subscription -- eMusic's venture allows users to keep the downloaded tracks.

Although eMusic has a London-based office, a U.S.-based spokesperson declined to give details about the full commercial launch. She explained that more information on repertoire and partners for the U.K. and European launch will be disclosed when the company is ready to do so.