After a decade fighting to stop illegal file-sharing, the music industry will give fans today what they have always wanted: an unlimited supply of free and legal songs. With CD sales in free fall and legal downloads yet to fill the gap, the music industry has reluctantly embraced the file-sharing technology that threatened to destroy it. Qtrax, a digital service announced today, promises a catalogue of more than 25 million songs that users can download to keep, free and with no limit on the number of tracks. The service has been endorsed by the very same record companies – including EMI, Universal Music and Warner Music – that have chased file-sharers through the courts in a doomed attempt to prevent piracy. The gamble is that fans will put up with a limited amount of advertising around the Qtrax website’s jukebox in return for authorised use of almost every song available. The service will use the “peer-to-peer” network, which contains not just hit songs but rarities and live tracks from the world’s leading artists.
Nor is a lack of compatibility with the iPod player expected to put fans off. Apple is unlikely to allow tracks downloaded from its rival to be compatible with iPods, but, while the iPod is the most popular music player, it has not succeeded in dominating the market: sales of the iPod account for 50 million out of 130 million total digital player sales. Qtrax has also spoken of an “iPod solution”, to be announced in April. Qtrax files contain Digital Rights Management software, allowing the company to see how many times a song has been downloaded and played. Artists, record companies and publishers will be paid in proportion to the popularity of their music, while also taking a cut of advertising revenues. The Qtrax team, which spent five years working on the system, promised a “game-changing” intervention in the declining recorded music market when the service was presented at the Midem music industry convention in Cannes.
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