Month-long hearing starts Sept. 25.

The U.K. Copyright Tribunal has set aside a four-week period from Sept. 25 to hear the ongoing online dispute between U.K. labels body the BPI and collecting society the MCPS-PRS Alliance.

As previously reported, the BPI and seven online services -- including Apple’s iTunes Music Store, AOL Music and MusicNet -- are objecting to the royalty rate the MCPS-PRS Alliance is planning to charge for online downloads of musical works on the Internet and on wireless devices.

They contend that there is a discrepancy between the royalty fees charged by the Alliance for physical, broadcast and online products. The dispute was referred to the mediator on June 29, 2005.

Mechanical royalties on physical products stands at 6.5% of retail price (or 8.5% of the published wholesale price); broadcasting rates range from 3%-5.25% of radio station's net advertising revenues.

The BPI and the online services object to the Alliance's online tariff proposals, which would set the rate for online usage of music at a rate of 12% of gross retail revenues. This rate is subject to a temporary discount to 8%.

Speaking at the March 8 annual company conference in London, the Alliance managing director Steve Porter said that if the tribunal eventually went on to set online rates, it would create a precedent for the world and become a benchmark that other countries might follow.

The tribunal has assigned the reference CT 84/05 to the BPI and MCPS-PRS hearing. Sony U.K. and digital music firms will also deliver evidence during the four weeks.

However, a decision from the tribunal is not expected to take place right in the aftermath of the hearings. "You certainly don't get a judgment straight away (from the Copyright Tribunal)," comments an Alliance spokesman. "You could be waiting a few months before a decision is made."

Total legal costs linked to the referral are believed to be in the region of £2.5 million ($4.4 million).