Qtrax & The Facts

Sometimes the devil really is in the details.

Qtrax wasn’t exactly a household name among music fans, or for that matter, among music industry executives. At least, not until recently.

Unfortunately for Qtrax, the service’s name is now on everybody’s lips, but for the wrong reasons.

Owned by Brilliant Technologies Corporation and billing itself as the first peer-to-peer service to have major label backing, Qtrax execs described on January 27th an advertising-supported P2P environment where up to 25 million individual songs would be available. The service also spent close to $1 million to spread the gospel at this year’s MIDEM in Cannes, France, including hiring James Blunt for an after-midnight concert.

But there was just one small problem. Or one problem multiplied by 4, the number of major record labels. As soon as Qtrax’s press announcements found their way to mainstream media, record company execs were saying they had not signed off on any deal with the service.

Warner Music Group was the first label to contest Qtrax’s claim. On January 28th the label issued a statement that it "has not authorized the use of our content on Qtrax’s recently announced service."

Universal Music Group and EMI quickly followed WMG’s lead, but did say they were "in discussions" with the service. According to London’s The Times, Sony BMG also said they had discussions with Qtrax execs but no deal had been reached.

So, other than making complete fools of themselves, not only in front of the entire world, but also in front of the labels they want to sign up, just what the heck is Qtrax, anyway?

Qtrax launched as a Napster-like P2P in 2002, but quickly shut down to avoid legal problems. In the announcement trumpeting all that free music, Qtrax also said songs would be wrapped in Microsoft’s digital rights management technology, thus making downloads incompatible with Apple’s iPod. However, the company promised it will implement a way to get around the iPod compatibility issue in the near future.

But then, Qtrax has said a lot of things. Major label support, 25 million free songs and future iPod-friendly downloads were the major talking points in the service’s premature announcement. Whether Qtrax is capable of making good on those promises is anybody’s guess, but it wasn’t helping its cause when it claimed major label support even though it didn’t have one signed deal.

But more people know the Qtrax name now than they did one week earlier. And what’s that old line about any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right?


EU Sides With ISPs (for now)

It was a win of sorts for Euro Internet service providers and right-to-privacy advocates when a European Union court ruled ISPs are not required to give information on their customers suspected of copyright piracy to entertainment companies.

But that taste of victory may be short-lived. In making the ruling, the European Court Of Justice said all the EU needs is to tweak the rules to make such customer disclosures mandatory.

The court decision was about a case where Spanish telecom company Telefonica refused to hand over information regarding which of its customers shared content owned by members of Spanish trade group for film and music producers, Promusicae.

What caused the court to side with Telefonica is that Spanish law treats copyright infringement cases as civil matters instead of criminal cases. What’s more, EU law doesn’t require governments to enforce copyright law by forcing companies to disclose personal data in civil cases.

Although the European Union is supposed to be, well, a union, when it comes to copyright issues individual countries have been making decisions sometimes at odds with their EU brethren.

For example, a Belgian court said a local ISP should install blocking software, while a German court last summer refused to order ISPs to hand over customer data to record companies.

And then there’s France, which plans on disconnecting users caught distributing infringing material. So, there’s still a few issues to resolve before the EU can truly be an EU when it comes to copyright.


Amazon MP3 – International Style

Amazon is wasting no time taking its vision of DRM-less tunes international, with the company’s recent announcement of an international rollout of Amazon MP3 throughout 2008.

Now the question is whether Amazon MP3 can go global faster than Apple’s iTunes did four years ago. Apple’s music service opened for biz in April 2003, but didn’t enter international markets until June 2004.

Amazon MP3 launched in September 2007, so it has until November of this year to beat the amount of time it took Apple to take iTunes to the international level, 14 months after its U.S. launch.

But Amazon has not yet revealed a timetable for going worldwide with its MP3 store, saying only that it would happen this year.

"We have received Thousands of e-mails from Amazon customers around the world asking us when we will make Amazon MP3 available outside of the U.S.," said Amazon.com VP of digital music Bill Carr. "We are excited to tell those customers today that Amazon MP3 is going international this year."


All This And More Could Be Yours

There’s more than one way to finance the recording of an album. If you have deep pockets you can pay for it yourself. Better yet, find someone else to pay for it. Or go the traditional route and find a label willing to spring for it.

Then there’s asking your fans to pick up the cost.

Singer-songwriter Jill Sobule is trying the last option. She’s set to record her next album, and has famed producer Don Was ready to helm it. But she’s a little short of green to pay for it all.

So she’s turning to her fans, offering them different levels of financial participation, with each level offering something in return.

It’s kind of like the various tiers of fund-raising used by politicians, where a few bucks might get you a thank you and a six-figure check might get you dinner with the candidate.

In Sobule’s case, she’s offering 11 levels of monetary participation. The first level is priced at $25 and called "Polished Rock," which gives the fan an advance copy of the CD before it drops. Fans with big bucks can opt for the $10,000 "Weapons-Grade Plutonium Level," which gives the fan a chance to sing on the CD.

"Don’t worry if you can’t sing," says Sobule. "Engineers can fix that."

And if singing isn’t an option, for $10,000 Sobule is offering "cowbell-playing privileges."

Other donation levels include the $200 bronze level, which gives the fan free admission to all of Sobule’s shows for the year, the $500 Gold Level for which the fan’s name will be mentioned in an instrumental track on the album, and the $1,000 Platinum Level, which gives the fan a personalized theme song written by Sobule that can be used on an answering machine.

And you gotta love the description of the $750 "Gold Doubloons Level."

"Exactly like the gold level, but donors give Sobule more money."

In a message to her fans, Sobule likened her method of financing to the days of yore when musicians were sponsored by royalty and / or the very rich.

"In these dark days (for some in the music industry), I am finding new inspiration: the patronage system of old," writes Sobule. "My fans and empathetic friends, acting as Kings and Medicis will fund my next record (give me money). However, in exchange for their support, they will receive a vast array of fab gifts and services – like a house concert or their own theme song!"

Those interested in participating can make their donations at JillsNewRecord.com.