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MP3 music service draws industry fire

Slammed for touting unavailable but unlicensed content

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Update A fledgling online music service targeting dance music fans this week attempted to convince the music industry that it is legitimate following complaints from a number of independent labels that the site was offering unlicensed music content.

JetGroove was launched on 5 October as the "first legal service for MP3 downloads which offers such a vast choice of music made by independent record labels in one place". The "English" site claims its catalogue stretches to "half a million" tracks, all in MP3 format. "Our database contains more alternative music than you can find anywhere else," its registration rubric boasts.

Perhaps the site does, but it quickly emerged that the site may also offer songs that have not been authorised. A number of independent labels and artists who visited the site after its launch claimed to have found their content apparently available for purchase, even though JetGroove had not sought their permission.

UK music industry trade body the BPI today confirmed that it had received a "number of complaints from its independent members about the possible posting of unlicensed content" A spokesman saud: "Our anti-piracy division is aware of the site and is taking steps to investigate it."

The Association of Independent Music (AIM) told The Register it too is investigating complaints from its members. And Register sources say anti-piracy operatives from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) are also keeping an eye on JetGroove, whose servers are believed to be located in Russia.

In fact, many, if not all, unauthorised songs, although listed, are not available for download. While that may yet leave the site on the right side of the law, "all it seems to have done is piss off a whole load of artists and labels and give the impression that the site is an extremely dodgy operation," wrote a poster to the Record of the Day music industry web site this weekend, neatly summing up what a number of industry insiders have said to us.

Clarification

Yesterday, JetGroove responded to such complaints with a statement that seeks to clarify its position. "The music community was disappointed at some parts of the website and made some wrong assumptions," it said, admitting that the attention it had received "brought some contradictions to the light [sic]".

JetGroove claims it is committed to "legal sales only". Where it has a license to sell a song, that song will be made available "to be purchased and downloaded". Where permission to offer the song has yet to be granted, the song will be listed but not available for sale - they are put "on hold", JetGroove said. "As soon as this happens, record label or artist to whom this track belongs is contacted with the offer of doing business with JetGroove."

That makes JetGroove sound like those 'services' who list websites for free but then regularly email them with the suggestion that they pay to get a 'premier' link. JetGroove doesn't appear to have added spam to its business-development methodologies, but it does appear to be listing songs ahead of a deal, in the hope of building a commercial relationship with labels in due course.

Requests for database entries to be removed are followed up with a letter that runs along the lines of the statement issued yesterday: "The experience of showing your music on our website without distributing aimed to draw your attention to us, with further goal to make contacts with you on friendly terms with a perspective of mutually beneficial partnership. We're glad to inform you that your music is getting popular indeed through our website and we can let you know at any time how many of your tracks were put on hold and which ones," it says.

If a label or artist continues to refuse to license their content, songs and references to them do appear to be removed. Warp Records and Subversive Records are among the labels who issued cease and desist letters last week and had their songs removed from JetGroove's database, The Register understands.

How much unlicensed content, if any, the site makes available for purchase is not known. It's possible that none is - the company is simply listing unlicensed content, not offering it. Indeed, while it's possible to select a broad range of tracks for purchase, many appear in online shopping baskets as "not yet available for purchase".

"The least thing JetGroove planned to do is to violate rights of record labels, publishers, artists or authors," the company said. "The project was created to give independents a good chance of being known in the world, and earning money, not to make them suffer again as they do from p2p systems [sic]."

Maybe, but the company has certainly taken an unusual path to achieving that aim. Its decision to list some content before seeking permission to offer the songs for sale is not a move guaranteed to win support among members of the independent music community, no matter how willing it is to remove the songs when requested to do so. Nor will offering song previews, which require licensing as much as the complete tracks do.

It's entirely possible that the site only plays host to legitimately licensed content - which is why the BPI, IFPI and organisations like it are moving cautiously for now. But by listing material it does not have the online resale rights to, even if it doesn't make the stuff available, JetGroove has undoubtedly weakened its credibility. ®

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