Ask LH: Are Bargain-Basement Online Music Stores Actually Legal?

Ask LH: Are Bargain-Basement Online Music Stores Actually Legal?

Dear Lifehacker, iTunes slows my computer down so much that I’ve been looking for an alternative store for music. I have come across a number of stores that claim to be legal but are so cheap it seems incredible. There’s Iomoio, mp3million, mp3va and more stores that all sell individual tracks for 16 cents or less.

I have done a bit of research on those three and have only found good reports on them, but I’m still sceptical. I have also found out that these three stores are all based in Russia. Is there something about Russian copyright laws that allows music to be legally sold so cheap, or is it too good to be true? Thanks, Music Bargain Hunter

picture from Shutterstock

Dear MBH,

We covered this question back in December 2011, but it pops up quite regularly so it’s worth revisiting. The bottom line? While it may be “legal” in a strict sense, these sites clearly aren’t paying any money to the artists involved in the majority of cases, and they represent a risk to your own personal data.

The basis for these sites is the idea that under the copyright laws applying in some former Soviet jurisdictions, all music downloads are subject to payment of streaming licences rather than per-track fees. That makes it theoretically feasible to sell the tracks at very low prices.

What’s less clear is whether any of the money that’s paid to these services ever finds its way back to the artists involved, or whether the claimed “licences” actually exist in the first place. It’s not clear whether those “streaming” rights actually cover non-Russian territories, for starters.

Every time I have checked these sites, I’ve always been able to find material from artists who don’t license their material for any streaming or download services. For instance, Garth Brooks remains a holdout worldwide, but it’s easy to find his material on the sites you mention.

As such I’m highly dubious as to the practical legality of these sites (as opposed to the theoretical legality). That in turn raises another question: if the operators of these sites aren’t concerned about actually operating a legitimate global business, why would you trust them with your credit card details? I certainly wouldn’t.

If you want a cheap, legal way to access music, there are plenty of legal streaming sites which offer access to millions of tracks, and some (notably Spotify) offer a free option (in return for ads). It’s true that artists don’t make much money from Spotify either, but it (and its many rivals) do offer an actually legal alternative, not a highly questionable option.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Unless the artist is self-distributed, little if any money from any on-line sales gets back to the artist. The recording industry makes sure the contacts are so biased that the artist ends up paying for everything to do with distribution, and the studios juggle the books to make sure that even successful albums look like they have made a loss.

    Artists only really make money if they write music, and perform live.

    The recording industry bleating that “piracy takes money from the artist” is hypocrisy in the extreme.

    • Case in point: Cher. She’s been robbed out of millions, as Universal funnelled the money into international sections of the group to cover how up much they had actually earned.

      In Italy, Dolce and Gabbana have been sent to prison for 2 years for avoiding taxes by setting up a shell company in another country. Why can’t we send record execs to prison for ripping off artists?

  • If you want to support the artist, buy their albums or see them live. Paying for a streaming site is only for your listening convenience.

    • Artists make the choice to not earn (sufficient) money when they decide to choose that career path and try to “hit it big” and become a celebrity. For that reason, I don’t have much sympathy for the artists that complain about not being paid enough.

      • This is a supremely ignorant comment. If you believe that all musicians choose that ‘career’ to achieve celebrity and riches, then your life must be very miserable and devoid of the joy of music. I, in turn, have a great deal of sympathy for you.

  • There are alternatives like CD Baby which actually pay the artists a good chunk (particularly independent artists), don’t require iTunes and are comparably priced.

    As someone whose works have appeared on these bargain basement sites: technically they are legal based on the laws of wherever the site is registered/hosted, but it is extremely unlikely that the artist will ever see any money from it. (Certainly we never did, despite contacting the site owners via the specified channels.)

    So — solely in regard to my own music to which I own the copyright — personally I’d rather you downloaded a torrent than go through a bargain basement site. I might not be getting paid, but no-one else is profiting from my work either.

  • I don’t care if beyonce etc get money ,but if you wanna support an ” independent” artist buy a cd or do it legally,otherwise they won’t tour here as they’ll think they have little fanbase here,determined by sales

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