After months of hype, the MySpace Music site launched Thursday morning (September 25), offering users the chance to stream millions of songs for free, share their playlists with friends and get access to those lists from anywhere in the world.

The service — which features songs from all four of the major labels as well as indie aggregator the Orchard (whose catalog features songs from 50 Cent, Blink-182, Bob Marley, Daddy Yankee and the Hold Steady) — also allows users for the first time to search for music by artist name, song title or album title and instantly listen to, buy and add that song to their playlists.

"Music has been a big part of what MySpace is about since our early days," said Steve Pearman, senior vice president of product strategy. "Our question was, 'Where do we go that's beyond what's previously been done?' "

The idea of MySpace Music, he said, was to let users do what they want to do with the music they love by making legal access to digital tracks as easy as illegal means. But this service also has the added bonus of providing ways for artists and labels to profit by selling tracks, albums and merchandise.

"The goal is to make it as easy and compelling as stealing," he said. "If you give people something that's as easy as stealing and just as fun, that's the biggest defense against piracy."

Before, MySpace users could only have one song in their profile; now, they can have up to 10 in their My Top Songs list and, in their MyProfile list, they can have up to 100 of their favorite songs at a time. In addition, rather than 90-second samples, all tracks on the site will be full streams, with an unlimited amount available per month. Pearman said it was not clear yet what the total amount of songs available would be, though he suggested it should easily creep into the millions.

Whenever you play a song on the site, an artist update box pops up to the right that features information on what the band is doing now, including posts on new photos, songs and tour dates. The MySpace Music front page will also feature a rotating spotlight on playlists created by artists — currently, they include the Jonas Brothers and Lil Wayne — but Pearman said MySpace employees will also be trawling the site to identify tastemaker users with interesting mixes whose playlists will also be featured in those spotlights.

Part of the funding for the site is provided by four title sponsors — McDonald's, Sony Pictures, State Farm and Toyota — so when the MySpace Music player pops up, it currently features a "Brought to you by" banner for the burger giant as well as an additional ad for McDonald's at the bottom. Sony will also advertise on the player — at this time for its music-focused movie "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" — and McDonald's and Toyota will also participate in free download promotions.

Users can also now browse their friends' playlists and, if they like a song on one of them, instantly click on it and add it to their list or click the "buy" option and be taken to the Amazon MP3 store, which will automatically shuttle the track to whatever music-management service the user employs. The site also offers ringtones for sale. Pearman said plans call for adding additional items for purchase in the near future, including merchandise and concert tickets.

Aside from the Orchard, MySpace — which has more than 76 million unique visitors a month in the U.S., boasts more than 5 million artist pages and a reported 6 billion tunes streamed a month — does not currently have any other indie labels involved in the MySpace Music site.

"It is incredibly disappointing that MySpace will launch their new service without having finalized a deal with the world's most important independent labels and artists," said Charles Caldas, CEO of Merlin, an independent label rights agency in a statement about the site, which has long been a boon for indie artists who don't have the resources of a big label behind them to push their music. "It certainly makes [MySpace CEO] Chris DeWolfe's public statements that the 'indie bands are really the heart of MySpace' ring extremely hollow." A spokesperson for Merlin said the group is in negotiations to license its members' works to MySpace Music.

Reacting to a British report that suggested the new service might face antitrust issues in Europe due to the alleged freezing out of indie labels, MySpace responded in a statement issued before the launch: "We are not aware of any antitrust complaint or inquiry pending against either MySpace or MySpace Music. MySpace Music welcomes indie artists and is not blocking content from them or other labels. Our goal is to provide the indie community with powerful tools and monetization channels to enable them to access revenue streams previously unavailable."

MySpace attributes the lack of indie labels at launch time to a technological rights issue related to copyright-infringement software that currently has difficulty distinguishing between international and domestic rights on certain content.

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