MP3.com Offers Free Music Downloads

MP3.com, the site that was once sued for millions of dollars by record labels for copyright infringement is back to distributing free mp3s, except this time it's doing so legally.

MP3.com Free DownloadsThe site’s new initiative is similar to MySpace’s approach. Bands can upload their music and can choose to either let their fans stream songs or download them, or both. The focus is currently on independent artists, but it will hopefully shift to include mainstream ones as well.

With CNET backing the site, it’s not hard to see it grow to become a popular destination for free music. After all, CNET’s Download.com does boast of being “the premiere source for free music” with 75,425 free mp3s available for download. If you combine MP3.com’s memorable brand name and Download.com’s catalogue, you can come up with quite a strong offering that could even compete with the likes of iTunes. Add a MySpace-style music community to that and you’re set.

After the lawsuits were over, MP3.com was acquired by Vivendi Universal in 2001. It was then sold to CNET in 2003 and has since been more of a music news and reviews website than a place to find free downloads.

MP3.com already lets you stream songs from popular mainstream artists. The free downloads on the other hand are mostly from unknown artists. The only song remotely familiar to me on the Free MP3s – Popular page is a piece from the Da Vinci Code Game soundtrack.

The real question is, can any such free offering compete with P2P networks and BitTorrent sites? I think if a company can find a way to make money from advertising, but at the same time not make ads intrusive and offer free music downloads, it’s going to blow music piracy away so fast that the RIAA might have to fire its lawyers. Spiral Frog is going to try to do something of the sort, but is expected to fail miserably because:

  1. Its songs won’t play on the iPod, and even the Zune since they will be protected with Microsoft’s WMA DRM.
  2. The site is going to require people to keep coming back and watching ads, lest their songs stop working.

What do you think? Is the music industry going to be at war with its fans forever or will someone come up with a worthy solution?

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