Well-known (some would say “infamous”) peer-to-peer networking service Lime Wire has announced it plans to open a legitimate digital music store, where it will offer music for sale in DRM-free, 256 Kbps format. The store will function as a Web site separate from Lime Wire’s P2P client software—although the client will include links to the Lime Wire store, and eventually enabling users to directly browse and purchase music from the store. Lime Wire plans to offer a la carte sales and monthly all-you-can-eat subscription plans.
One problem: exactly whose music will Lime Wire offer for sale? The music industry generally regards Lime Wire’s peer-to-peer technology as a major contributor to online music piracy; in fact, major record labels filed suit against Lime Wire a year ago in the wake of successful litigation against P2P service Kazaa.
Lime Wire says its first partners in its music store are IRIS Distribution and Nettwerk Productions: although neither are one of the “big four” music distributors, they do manage distribution for a number of independent labels and artists, including some well-known artists like the Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, and Paul Van Dyk. Now that EMI and Universal have programs offering DRM-free, MP3 version of music from their catalogs, it’s not inconceivable that Lime Wire could strike up a partnership with one of those major labels, or a third-party distributor like MusicNet (which already has a deal with EMI to distribute DRM-free music to services like Yahoo Music and Urge).
Lime Wire has not announced any pricing plans for its service or indicated any timeframe for launching commercial music sales.
A big question is whether Lime Wire’s efforts to offer legitimate music sales will prove to be a successful business strategy. Offering legit music sales within an application which (let us be honest) gives its users access to a wide library of copyright-infringing—but free!—music doesn’t seem to be a recipe for success, unless the notion that users will opt for easily-accessible legal music options is a lot more powerful than one might imagine. Former P2P badboy Napster has yet to find commercial success despite converting to a legitimate service years ago, and there doesn’t seem to be a lack of online music stores on the Internet right now—even ones offering DRM-free music. Does one more online music store have a chance to succeed?
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