HOME Technology 2005
Legal downloads here at last
Buy an on-line album for $18
New Zealand music lovers have long been tempted with an array of handheld devices that store and play their favourite songs but only this year have they had access to local web sites for legal downloads.

For several years now www.amplifier.co.nz has pioneered the way, offering selected Kiwi music at $2 a pop, but this year its been joined by the Digirama and Coke Fridge sites with their extensive catalogues of global and local songs.

Thereís long been speculation that world leading music site iTunes, which operates in 20 countries, would set up a New Zealand operation to service the ever popular iPod family of MP3 players. Despite an Australian site finally being launched in late October, the local operation says there are no plans for a Kiwi site. Rumours remain however that an announcement may be due in January. To date there have been more than 500 million songs downloaded from iTunes sites since it launched in April 2003.

Australian iTunes allows iPod owners to select from among a million songs ($A1.80 each) and around 1000 music videos ($3.60 each). Video clips can be viewed on the newly launched video capable iPod with the promise that TV shows and movies will eventually be made available. The free iTunes desktop software is available for PC and Macintosh computers to help organise and play music files and copy content to iPods.

Locally owned Digirama (www.digirama.co.nz ) has over 100,000 songs and rival CokeTunes (www.cokefridge.co.nz) at last count had over half a million songs. Users can preview songs and download in Windows Media Player (.wma) format. The music will play instantly on Media Player but needs to be converted to an MP3 format to play on Apple's iPod.

Digirama lets you burn three copies of a song and transfer it to an MP3 player three times before security kicks in. The legal music downloads are licensed through the Australasian Publishing right Association (Apra) so the artists are guaranteed to get their share of the money.

Coketunes is in seven European countries and the software was imported for the local market by Coca-Cola New Zealand. It has a music fund aimed at supporting the development of New Zealand artists with a portion of every track sold going to quarterly grants to young musicians.

Both sites depend on arrangements with the major record labels to broaden their catalogue of songs. An early price war with CokeTunes forced Digirama to cut its fees from $2 a song to $1.70. Ringtones are available in monophonic and polyphonic versions and can be purchased for $1.00 for Vodafone mobiles. Digirama consumers can use their Telecom mobile phone account or a web-based service which accepts credit card transactions. Songs cost $1.75. Both sites sell albums for around $18.

Many modern phones and other devices now double as MP3 players and Vodafoneís online MusicStore has 300,000 tracks that can be downloaded directly to the phones for $3.50 a song. It also offers streaming full length music videos. Telecom CDMA mobile customers can download songs to MP3-capable cell phones for $1.75 each and now its planning to launch a full download service for PCs and MP3 players in the new year using its high speed mobile network.

The reality is that music downloads have forced the music industry to change its tune. It stubbornly refused to consider legal downloads until the technology for peer-to-peer file sharing forced its hand. Meanwhile the industry has changed irrevocable and there are many sites around the world that offer perfectly legal downloading of music that the record companies havenít yet locked down. Surf carefully though.

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