Qtrax Has Rough Start As Major Labels Deny Deals With Free Download Service

Service was touted as first free, legal peer-to-peer system.

Monday (January 28) was supposed to be the day Qtrax would unveil its genre-defining music service, the one that was going to revolutionize the business by offering a free, legal, ad-supported peer-to-peer experience like no other on the planet. And, in the holy grail of music downloading, it was going to have songs from all four of the major labels, as well as millions more from independent ones.

But just hours after the service's splashy unveiling at the global MIDEM music conference in France on Sunday, one that London's Times Online said cost in excess of $1 million and featured hired hands such as LL Cool J and James Blunt as celebrity spokespeople, it seems like there's nothing there. Reuters reported Monday afternoon that the world's biggest music companies, including Warner Music Group and Sony BMG, denied that they have agreed to license their songs to Qtrax.

The company reportedly told a number of media outlets last week that it had deals with majors representing almost 75 percent of all music sales, but on Monday both Sony BMG and Warner — home to Blunt — denied ties to the company. And a source close to Universal Music Group — home to Cool J — said it also had not signed a deal with Qtrax. A spokesperson for the EMI Group said the company's song-publishing unit had a deal with Qtrax, but its recorded-music division does not.

A receptionist who answered the phone at Qtrax headquarters (he would not give his name) told MTV News that a press release with the details about the company's deals with the labels would be out "in the next day or two" but that no one was available to speak since all the company's executives were in France for MIDEM. Because the Qtrax beta software does not yet work on Apple computers and the software download for Windows machines was not reliably downloading at press time, MTV News asked the receptionist which songs or artists were currently available for download.

"There are song from majors and independents," he said. "There's millions of them ... a very healthy amount of songs." The service had initially boasted that it would have a library of more than 25 million songs, or four times the amount currently offered by iTunes. The site uses images of the Foo Fighters, Avril Lavigne, Daft Punk, Lily Allen, Feist, Lenny Kravitz, Alicia Keys, the Wu-Tang Clan and John Mayer in its promotional copy, promising 100 percent free and legal, unlimited, fast downloads with no adware, no spyware and no spoofing. In theory, while a Qtrax song downloads, the user sees an advertisement flash on the screen.

According to Reuters, EMI, Sony BMG and Warner had all previously signed agreements with Qtrax while it was testing a paid downloading service, but sources said those agreements expired in the last year and did not cover the new free, ad-supported model now being promoted by Qtrax. Warner was the first major to deny it had a deal with Qtrax, on Sunday night, which led to Qtrax issuing a statement clarifying that, "We are in discussions with Warner Music Group to ensure that the service is licensed and we hope to reach an agreement shortly."

The Qtrax debacle comes on the heels of a similar free, ad-supported download service called SpiralFrog, which was announced with much fanfare more than two years ago but has been unable to nail down any of the other major labels since launching in September with music from Universal artists.

For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.