QTrax's free music downloads: Not yet

Download any track you want as long as you look at some ads? Looks like a premature promise.

By Farhad Manjoo
January 29, 2008 2:15AM (UTC)
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The Times of London headlined its announcement of a new legal music-download service quite dramatically: "From today, feel free to download another 25 million songs -- legally."

Well, not really, buster.

QTrax, the service being touted by the Times, put out word of its new plan at a music conference in Cannes this weekend. According to the company, the four major record labels had given the company their blessing to offer songs through a peer-to-peer download service that would be supported by advertising; you wouldn't pay a thing to download the songs.


But no sooner did QTrax go public than the record labels balked. All four -- Warner Music, Universal Music, EMI and Sony BMG -- say they have not signed deals with QTrax to offer such a plan. QTrax, which is supposed to be live now, doesn't work yet.

Allan Klepfisz, QTrax's CEO, tells CNet that there are only a few bureaucratic hurdles, and that the service will launch soon. "We plan to release music the way we said we were," he says.

Well, that'd be nice. QTrax's service sounds a bit iffy -- the tracks will contain copy protection, meaning they can't be used on iPods, which may be a deal-killer to many -- but of course, it'd be a sign of progress in the music business. It'd be fun to try. When one might get to do that isn't clear.


One more thing. The Times of London asked recording artist James Blunt what he made of such a service -- which promises to compensate artists when their music is downloaded -- and the dude went off the rails, suggesting that even legal downloading amounted to theft.

"I'm amazed that we now accept that people steal music," he said. "I was taught not to steal sweets from a sweet shop. But I want to learn how this service works, given the condition the music industry is in."

I'd take time to explain the philosophical and legal differences between physical property and intellectual property -- that, you know, when you steal sweets in a shop you're depriving some other bloke of the sweets, but not so with copying music -- and I might point out that the sooner we begin to recognize such differences the sooner we'd get to saner, more prosperous and less anachronistic IP business models.

I would do all that, but haven't activists and legal experts and smart entrepreneurs been doing so for years now? Yup. And still there's no getting through.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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