May 19, 2003 8:30 PM PDT
Spanish site offers music-file fiesta
The new Madrid-based company, called Puretunes, is the second Spanish Web service to try offering access to a vast and otherwise unavailable catalog of music online without directly securing the record labels' permission.
The company's predecessor, WebListen.com, is still operating despite having been repeatedly sued by European record labels. Puretunes, with a U.S.-based publicity agent, appears to be focusing more heavily on the English-speaking world, however. Each claims to be legal and says it will compensate labels and artists for distribution of their works.
"It is evident by the enormous popularity of P2P and supporting MP3 players that the consumers are demanding their music digitally," Javier Siguenza, Puretunes general counsel, said in a statement. "Puretunes has pioneered a product that allows consumers to get the music they want digitally, without restriction, while compensating the rights holders for their works."
Whatever its controversial legal status, Puretunes' emergence is part of a quickly growing resurgence of interest in creative ways to bring digital music to consumers worldwide.
Apple Computer's launch of its iTunes 99-cent store late last month has rekindled optimism in the pay-by-the-download model. Roxio's surprise $39.5 million purchase Monday of Pressplay, the major-label owned music subscription service, added fuel to the growing fire.
In an apparent bid for publicity--and in what will certainly further spark record companies' ire--Puretunes' first affiliate distributor is Grokster, the file-swapping software company that recently won a clean legal bill of health from a Los Angeles federal judge.
Grokster will be marketing Puretunes to its users, either through a button inside the software or by bundling the Puretunes software along with the Grokster download, Grokster's president, Wayne Rosso, said.
"The concept is to take the mountain to Mohammad," Rosso said. "We want to put the idea in kids' heads that it's such a good deal, they might as well get the music legally."
By the standards of most paid music sites, Puretunes is a good deal indeed, at least for the music buyer. The company offers customers unlimited downloads that can be done over specified periods of time. Eight hours of unlimited downloading will cost $3.99, 48 hours will cost $9.99, and a month will cost $24.99, for example. Longer periods of time are also available.
Whether it's a good deal for record labels and artists remains to be seen. The company says it has secured licenses from two Spanish rights agencies that allow it to distribute music online without explicit authorization from the record labels and publishers.
On its Web site, Puretunes makes note of the fact that it offers the Beatles, Radiohead, Nirvana and Metallica, bands that have been difficult or impossible to get through licensed online music services.
Allen Dixon, general counsel of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, calls the Spanish companies' claims to have legal licenses "complete nonsense." WebListen has lost several rounds in Spanish court so far, and shows no sign of success in any of more than half a dozen lawsuits pending against it, he said.
"It is absolutely dead-bang clear," Dixon said. "Every single case has held that WebListen and anyone like them that wants to put recorded music on the Internet needs to have the labels' permission."