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
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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.
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