MPee3 invites browsing for tunes

While users are turning away from free peer-to-peer services like Kazaa under threats of industry lawsuits, worries about spyware, and dissatisfaction with the poor quality of tracks, new music site MPee3.com is offering another angle for thrifty fans of digital music.

The site is a search engine for MP3 files, similar to options you find from Lycos Music and Alta Vista. It locates files posted on any Web site, in a peer-to-peer style, but broader. And unlike Kazaa, there's no application to download, so you don't have to worry about spyware.

Site Attributes

This new approach to gathering digital music lets you search for files without registering. The site also offers membership, though you don't need to sign up to search; you can get a free membership, including a free Web e-mail account through Everyone.net and access to user forums. For US$1.67 monthly you can add 25MB of mail storage, including SMTP and IMAP support. For US$2.33 monthly you get mail plus antivirus and antispam tools.

But if you're searching for free files, Kazaa may be a better option. MPee3.com returns only 30 results per search. Some of them are duplicates, and the system doesn't weed out dead links. Your best bet is to search for an exact song title, not an artist or album. If you find what you're looking for, downloads are fairly fast--I averaged 30KB per second on one file.

Lycos Music offers pages that are easier to read, though its results are also hit and miss. If you're looking for a great interface and reliable downloads, you have to pay to get what you want, using services such as Apple's ITunes Music Store.

MPee3.com's biggest potential may be as a portal for digital audio resources.

"The idea behind MPee3.com was to create a MP3 community where users could do more than simply download music," says Stephen Noton, MPee3.com president. Currently you can find links to tutorials, FTP sites, and free application downloads.

Copyright Questions

Even though the site serves up files that are freely available on the Web, that doesn't mean you can legally download those songs. Unless the artist has given permission, you risk violating copyright law if you download the song, same as if you use Kazaa.

Noton says he hopes people use the site for lawful purposes. But what people do with the files they find through MPee3.com is their business, he adds. Noton contends that his tool is a search engine only, and that he isn't to blame for what people do with the results.

"This would be akin to holding Google responsible for the content on any of the millions of Web sites it lists in search results," he says.

Should the Recording Industry Association of America come knocking, members can get legal advice from Chicago attorney Charles Lee Mudd Jr., whose contact information is on the site. He will answer general questions about the legality of file sharing, and will offer a reduced rate to MPee3.com members (if he takes their case).

What does Noton get out of the site? He's come up with an interesting business model: He's funding the site by selling T-shirts. The shirt features a boy that bears a resemblance to the Calvin character from Calvin and Hobbes urinating on the MPee3 name while looking over his shoulder with a sinister grin. You can buy one on the site. And MPee3's disclaimer says it's not Calvin, and not subject to copyright.

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Michael Gowan

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