A revamped online file-sharing service aims to woo legions of music fans by offering unlimited, free song downloads that are compatible with iPods, and all with the blessing of major recording companies. Qtrax is the latest online music venture counting on the lure of free music to draw in music fans and on advertising to pay the bills, namely record company licensing fees.
The New York-based service was among several peer-to-peer file-sharing applications that emerged after the shutdown of Napster, the pioneer service that enabled millions to illegally copy songs stored in other music fans’ computers. Qtrax shut down a few months after its 2002 launch to avoid potential legal trouble. The latest version of Qtrax still lets users tap into file-sharing networks to search for music, but downloads come with copy-protection technology known as digital-rights management, or DRM, to prevent users from burning copies to a CD and calculate how to divvy up advertising sales with labels.
Qtrax downloads can be stored indefinitely on PCs and transferred onto portable music players, however. The service, which boasts a selection of up to 30 million tracks, also promises that its music downloads will be playable on Apple’s iPods and Macintosh computers as early as March. That’s unusual, as iPods only playback unrestricted MP3s files or tracks with Apple’s proprietary version of DRM, dubbed FairPlay.
“We’ve had a technical breakthrough which enables us to put songs on an iPod without any interference from FairPlay,” said Allan Klepfisz, Qtrax’s president and chief executive. Klepfisz declined to give specifics on how Qtrax will make its audio files compatible with Apple devices, but noted that “Apple has nothing to do with it.”
Apple has been resistant in the past to license FairPlay to other online music retailers. That stance has effectively limited iPod users to loading up their players with tracks purchased from Apple’s iTunes Music Store, or MP3s that are completely free of DRM protection, like Amazon.com.
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