QTrax is a startup that allegedly had agreements with three large record labels to allow legitimate, free and legal music downloads for users via Peer to Peer (P2P) technology. The blogosphere buzzed about it, then once they found out the deals fell through, the recanted twice as fast.
However, this small battle doesn’t justify declaring a total loss on the war against consumers with digital media. I think this illustrates that there’s still a strong interest among internet users to acquire legally-obtained music for free, in exchange for advertisements being shown. This service would be a direct threat to Apple’s iTunes, but I imagine that it would allow music companies to capture lost revenue from otherwise illegal downloads.
The main problem, which I can understand, is lack of accountability. Most numbers that are tossed around are purely anecdotal and speculative — think of “cooking the books” — in favor of getting deals from record companies. From the record company’s perspective, they’re spending money to “invest” into a new media with minimal proof that it made profit. At least with iTunes, they can keep track of inventory. Much like in court, prosecutors can’t prove that you didn’t do something, only that you did beyond a reasonable doubt.
I conclude with the fact that consumers are still in control. Music lovers will declare whether it’s profitable to go free. Users are ultimately the ones who pay. Is free P2P music sharing doomed, or is there still an opportunity yet to be seized?