NEW YORK (Reuters) - EMI Group Plc., the world's third-largest music company, is expanding its strategy to sell digital music without copy-protection software to more retail sites through a deal with PassAlong Networks.

PassAlong, a Franklin, Tennessee-based digital media company, said on Wednesday that EMI's entire digital catalog will be available on the music stores it powers, including Trans World Entertainment's f.y.e. online music store.

The new premium download tracks will be available in a higher sound quality MP3 format of 320 kilobits per second, compared with the usual 128 to 192 kilobits per second rate offered by most online music stores such as Apple Inc.'s iTunes Music Store.

PassAlong said EMI will add more than 100,000 premium downloads to PassAlong's catalog of nearly 3 million songs, of which more than 2 million are songs from independent labels in MP3 format.

Earlier this month, EMI became the first major record company to start selling the vast majority of its digital albums without copy-protection software, also known as digital rights management (DRM).
Major record companies had until recently resisted calls to sell music without protection in a bid to reduce piracy and illegal distribution online.

But the copy protection also restricted users from playing their songs on different software or digital media players. For example, if a user bought a copy-protected song from Apple's iTunes, he would only be able to play back the song on Apple's iPod digital media player or the iTunes software.

EMI's first retail partner for DRM-free tracks is iTunes Music Store, which will sell the premium higher sound quality tracks for $1.29 per track. EMI also said last month it will sell DRM-free songs through online retail giant Inc. when Amazon launches its digital music store later this year.

A PassAlong spokesman said prices had not yet been determined for premium tracks as it is up to its individual retail partners to set the prices.