Irish rock band U2 might rush-release its upcoming album as a legal download on Apple's iTunes music store if unfinished material from a CD copy that went missing ends up pirated on the Internet, a so

Irish rock band U2 might rush-release its upcoming album as a legal download on Apple's iTunes music store if unfinished material from a CD copy that went missing ends up pirated on the Internet, a source close to the band said on Friday.

While U2's label, Interscope Records, insisted it had no plans to change the intended November debut of the album, the source said an early iTunes release "is certainly one of the alternatives" should an unauthorized version appear on free file-sharing services.

U2's lead singer, Bono, was quoted in London's Daily Telegraph newspaper last week as saying, "If it is on the Internet this week, we will release it immediately as a legal download on iTunes, and get hard copies into the shops by the end of the month."

Such a move, contemplated as a response to the presumed theft of a U2 compact disc in France last week, would be unprecedented, experts said.

A number of artists, notably rock band Metallica and rap stars Eminem and 50 Cent, have hurried albums into brick-and-mortar stores days or weeks early when pirated material found it way onto free peer-to-peer services.

Others, including singers Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, have used the advance release of a limited number of songs to iTunes and other legitimate online music outlets as a marketing strategy to build awareness for upcoming albums.

U2 reported on its Web site last week that French police were looking for the missing disc, which contained rough-cut versions of several songs from the album, provisionally titled "Vertigo." It will be U2's first studio release since the successful "All That You Can't Leave Behind" nearly four years ago.

While U2 and Interscope already have close ties with iTunes, the source close to the band added that no conversations between the label and Apple had taken place.

--Reuters