Of course, it’s a different world and a different Napster this time around. Back in 1999 when Shawn Fanning launched Napster, the service was the first peer-to-peer file-sharing application dedicated to trading music. For nearly two years, Napster facilitated the trading of music, both unauthorized and authorized, until a court injunction effectively shut down the original operation in July of 2001.

Eventually the Napster brand, along with whatever technology was deemed salvageable, was acquired for fire-sale prices by software company Roxio, which relaunched the service as a legal, digital rights management-protected music download store.

Now the circle is almost complete, as Napster joins Amazon MP3 as one of the few services offering major label, non-protected MP3s. Boasting a catalog of 6 million tracks, Napster is selling the tunes for 99 cents each, and most CDs for $9.95. Most of Napster’s MP3 inventory, including all major label tracks, is encoded at 256kbps bitrate.

But more importantly, because the tracks are encoded as MP3s with no copy protection, Napster tracks will play on iPods, the best-selling personal players in the world.

The non-protected MP3s offered by Napster apply to purchased downloads only, and do not apply to Napster’s all-you-can-eat subscription service. Those tracks are still copy-protected, meaning the songs stop playing when a user cancels the subscription.

But MP3 downloads purchased from Napster will keep on playing. Shawn Fanning must be secretly pleased.

“It’s great that we have finally gotten here,” said Napster Chairman and CEO Chris Gorog. “It is really the beginning of a level playing field, which I think is essential for Napster, but also for the health of the digital music business in general.”