European digital-music service provider OD2 is offering free downloads in response to Napster's entry into the U.K. market.

European digital-music service provider OD2 is offering free downloads in response to Napster's entry into the U.K. market.

The London-based company is underwriting £20 ($35) packages of free downloads. The promotion will be supplied to U.K. customers via five of its online music retailer clients, for two weeks starting today.

The participating Web retailers are Coca Cola Co.'s mycokemusic.com, Microsoft Corp's MSN Music Club, Virgin Megastores, and Internet service providers Wanadoo and Tiscali.

"Basically, you pay for £20 worth of music and get £20 free, whether you are an existing user or a new one," Ed Averdieck, OD2's London-based sales and marketing director, tells Billboard.biz. "This is the first phase of similar (campaigns) to come. But they have to be done at the right time."

He admits that the two-week promotion aims to ride on the back of Napster's U.K. launch today.

However, he denied the free offer is a spoiler, especially as Napster has shown that it is possible to start a service in Europe without using OD2's services.

"I don't think this is about Napster spoiling our fun. We welcome them with open arms. The challenge is to get the vast majority of people who download to do so from legal sites," he adds.

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