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Russian MP3 sales site 'more popular in UK than Napster'

Study claims AllofMP3.com second only to iTunes

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A Russian company labelled by the music industry as as an "unlawful" operation was nonetheless second only to iTunes as the favoured destination of UK digital music buyers during April 2006, figures from UK-based market watcher XTN Data reveal.

According to XTN, Apple's iTunes Music Store accounted for 44 per cent of music download purchases in the UK last month. AllofMP3.com came in second, with a 14 per cent market share. That puts it ahead of Napster (eight per cent), Wippit (six per cent) and MSN (six per cent) among the nation's top-five digital music suppliers.

XTN's figures are based on a regular poll of 1,000 British music buyers, it said. The methodology chosen highlights consumer activity rather than industry-supplied sales figures. Because of AllofMP3.com's uncertain legal status, it's generally not included in 'official', music industry-sourced statistics. Indeed, XTN has only recent begun counting use of the site in survey responses.

But whatever AllofMP3.com's legal status, XTN's Greig Harper, told us today, crucially a significant number of British digital music buyers are purchasing music from the Russian site.

AllofMP3.com first came to UK music consumers' attention in 2004. The site claims legality through a licence agreement struck between its parent company and two organisations, the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society, and the Rightholders Federation for Collective Copyright Management of Works Used Interactively. Under Russian law, the licence permits the company to sell any song in any format, the site claims, without necessarily first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.

That, says the music industry, puts the site beyond the pale. But while the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) is certainly keeping its eye on the site, it has yet to take any direct action against it. Last year, it made a formal complaint to the Russian authorities, only to see Moscow prosecutors drop the case because a loophole in the country's copyright laws, which are geared toward the protection of content of physical media.

Despite the controversy, XTN's numbers show a good proportion of Britain's downloaders are using AllofMP3.com, which charges not by the track but the size of the download. Users can download songs in a variety of formats and at a range of bitrates. The higher the level of compression, the lower the audio quality, but the more you can download for the same amount of money. Typically, a four-minute song encoded at 192Kbps in the MP3 format costs just $0.11. No wonder the site is popular the same costs $0.99 on iTunes and other commercial music services.

How much of the 11 cents makes it back to the artist, however, is open to question, not matter how legal the site's sales may be. ®

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