Major record companies may be considering deals with Qtrax to allow music lovers to listen to any tune, anytime, free of charge.
Qtrax says that the four big labels -- Universal Music Group, owned by Vivendi; Sony-BMG Music Entertainment; Warner Music Group; and EMI Group -- have agreed to license their digital catalogs to the service, which aims to exploit online music bandits for commercial purposes.
Executives at Universal, Warner and EMI say they haven't signed deals with Qtrax, though a Universal spokesman says the label is "really close" to coming to terms. Officals with Sony haven't returned phone calls.
A Qtrax spokesman insists the deals have been made.
FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this story said that the four major record companies had agreed to license their digital catalogs to the online service Qtrax. That is not true of Universal Music Group, EMI Group and Warner Music Group, executives with those labels say. It is unclear as to whether there is such a deal with Sony-BMG Music entertainment. Qtrax officials insist the website has agreements with all four.
Qtrax wants to legitimize the peer-to-peer networks that accelerated music piracy in the 1990s by allowing computer users to share their music files online.
The service scours pirate networks for songs, then delivers them as downloads sto the computers of fans willing to have ads play while they listen. Executives behind Qtrax say the service would provide tens of millions of songs, far more than are available on Apple Inc.'s iTunes, the top legal download site.
Brilliant Technologies Corp., the publicly traded parent of Qtrax, has spent tens of millions of dollars over seven years developing the service.
It is available only in a test version that might not work as well as established sites.
Qtrax has licensed technology that assigns audio fingerprints to known recordings, ensuring that users actually get the song they are searching for, instead of a fragment or a "spoof" deliberately distributed by labels to discourage piracy, says Chief Executive Allan Klepfisz.
Klepfisz says Qtrax compares the sounds on pirated tracks with its catalog of fingerprints, delivering only the right version. The labels and others will then get a percentage of the revenue from the ads that show while the tracks play, he says.
"We're giving away the music, not the profits," Klepfisz says.
Although the downloads will reside on the users' computers, they will have some rights restrictions. At least initially, users wont' be able to listen to songs without the player filling the screen and showing ads. They will be able to use the Internet simultaneously only in a window within the player.