Canadian phone giant BCE Inc. began offering about 250,000 songs for downloading on its Sympatico.ca Web site yesterday (May 13).

Canadian phone giant BCE Inc. began offering about 250,000 songs for downloading on its Sympatico.ca Web site yesterday (May 13).

The launch of the Sympatico Music Store came as Canadian music publishers that support BCE's online downloading service complained that Internet music piracy is "rampant" in Canada.

The Sympatico store, which sells songs for as little as 99 cents Canadian (71 cents), is powered by Canadian digital-music service Puretracks, which has deals with all five major labels as well as a host of independents.

Also yesterday, the Canadian Recording Industry Assn., which represents the major music labels, said a wave of illegal downloading had been unleashed following a March 31 decision by the Federal Court of Canada. The court ruled that it could not force domestic Internet service providers to identify music pirates so they can be pursued in court.

The CRIA said that during the five weeks from March 30 to May 7, more than 500,000 illegal attempts were made to download the latest single from the Tragically Hip, "Vaccination Scar."

During the same five-week period, fewer than 1,000 copies of the single were bought legally online, the CRIA reported.

"Any reasonable person would be staggered by the disparity in those numbers," the band's Gord Sinclair says in a statement. "The grim economic reality aside, it shows how widespread the practice of downloading has become."

The CRIA is appealing the court decision, which ruled music downloading for personal use did not infringe copyright protections.

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