QTrax offers free music, legally

January 28, 2008 // 7:31 a.m.

Tags: #downloads #free #legal #mp3 #mpaa #p2p #peer #qtrax #radio #riaa #start-up

Peer-to-peer start-up QTrax is bravely forging ahead with the first large-scale, ad-supported, free, completely legal music download service. The bad news? It's not free from DRM.

Qtrax has announced deals with pretty much every major record label this weekend, and claims that it will be offering a 25-million-strong catalogue for gratis.

The service is based on a blacklist/whitelist/greylist system. The blacklist covers all the artists who have said “no way, no how” to digital distribution (I'm guessing the Purple Midget is on that one), and blocks such music from being shared via the system. The whitelist is all the artists who have said “yeah, baby!”. The greylist is possibly the most interesting part of the system, however: it's all the stuff that's floating around there on other less salubrious P2P networks and that hasn't been officially okayed or blocked.

QTrax CEO Allan Klepfisz describes the greylist as being for “where there are rights holders, but the rights holders themselves may not even know that a song is being downloaded frequently,” and claims the company identifies said rights holder and pays them a percentage of revenue gained from on-site advertising. He goes on to say “where we can't identify a rights holder, we will actually put up the song for claiming, and will reserve the portion of the ad pie until that song is appropriately claimed.

It's by this shady-sounding method that the company hopes to bolster its catalogue to the point where it dwarfs other legal download sources: as an example, iTunes currently has around five million songs available on its catalogue, just a fifth of what QTrax claims it will be able to offer.

The P2P application itself is based on the Songbird engine, and all downloading occurs within a Firefox-based browser with no need for any separate software to be installed. The down side is that the DRM is based on Microsoft technologies, so you'll need Windows Media Player installed – Linux users need not apply. Additionally, the songs are not currently supported on the ubiquitous Apple iPod, but the company claims to be working on that.

It's certainly refreshing to see an admission from the music industry that perhaps suing the heck out of music lovers isn't the way to go, and that there might be a way to have their cake and eat it: a system whereby the consumer feels that he's getting something for nothing in true anarchist P2P style and yet the artist (and the industry as a whole) can continue to profit.

Hey, it's worth a try.

Tempted by fully-legal P2P music sharing, or would they need to ditch the DRM before you even thought of visiting their website? Discuss it over in the forums.

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