Free and legal file-sharing...psych!

A publisher promising to bring free music downloads from the Big Four record labels made a big splash this weekend...except the promise wasn't exactly true. Or even true at all.

Peer-to-peer file-sharing generally involves free software, and much of the technology is certainly still legal in the United States (for now). However, once you start trading copyrighted material like music and movies, that's where legal problems arise. If you're trafficking, uploading or downloading copyrighted digital material without consent of the owner, you are infringing. You are also risking the possibility of massive penalties, more if the work in question has not yet been released.

This weekend, a company called Qtrax made a big splash by announcing "the world's first free and legal peer-to-peer digital music site." It turns out that line of marketing nonsense was only the beginning of the company's misdirections.

Qtrax beta 0.2

Qtrax didn't give me free music downloads, but it did teach me a bit about the Oracle Application Server 10g.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

After announcing deals to provide music from Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Group, and EMI Recorded Music at the Midem music conference in Cannes, France, Qtrax CEO Allan Klepfisz told CNET News.com on Sunday that there may not be agreements "written in stone." With such shenanigans involved, it's unlikely those agreements will ever be signed.

What's most unfortunate about the whole affair is that the name of a fine open-source project gets dragged through the mud. Songbird is a Firefox analog that adds media playback and library-management features to the popular browser. It's very cool, with tons of potential, but it's still unstable and in need of much development.

Qtrax simply grabbed the Songbird code, slapped in a few of its own extensions, added a big advertising banner on the top and a bookmark to the Qtrax Web site, and then launched this version of Songbird as its own. Qtrax didn't even write a new license or even rename the installer. Shenanigans, Part 2.

In essence, if you download Qtrax, you will get a beta application, hijacked by beta advertising modules, and offering zero free content. Sorry. Not good enough for me, and not yet good enough for CNET Download.com. Forgive me if I feel the need to sic Netdisaster on the Qtrax Web site.

I would love to see a viable, advertising-supported digital-music model, but I would be very surprised if Qtrax is the one to provide it.

Would you use a "free," advertising-supported P2P file-sharing client? If not, what's on your list for the perfect digital-music delivery system? Tell me about it in the comments.

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