Free Music on (For Now)

I made an amazing discovery last week. My afternoon needed a soundtrack and I went looking for a Web site that would allow me to stream music in the background while I edited away here at MainStreet. A co-worker turned me on to, which it’s fair to say, blew my mind almost immediately (though my enthusiasm for the site has since waned).

It’s a pretty simple interface. There’s a search bar at the top, you type in the name of the artist you want to hear, and you’re provided with a list of songs by that artist. Click on the song and listen to your heart’s content. My soundtrack for the afternoon was provided by Air Supply. Don’t laugh. I decided that I needed to rediscover them, having not really listened to the Australian duo since 1984… and it turns out they are awesome.

As I was grooving on “Even The Nights Are Better” for the twelfth time it occurred to me to consider the legal ramifications of my listening session. Is this stealing? Isn’t Dizzler just like Napster? Aren’t they going to get sued out of existence?

Online Free Music is Great, But is it Stealing?

So I e-mailed a guy I know from high school who knows about this stuff. Phil Kaplan, a.k.a. Pud, is the creator of the infamous Web site f**, the founder of AdBrite and is now an Entrepreneur In Residence at Charles River Ventures, a venture capital firm.

“There are a ton of these sites,” Phil says. “They don't actually host the music. Rather, they scour the Internet for random MP3s that people leave around on web servers.”

So, they’re not peer-to-peer sites in the way that Napster was, or Limewire is. File sharing sites allow people to connect their computers and share files – which would literally allow me to download as much Air Supply as I could find. I’d be in possession of the files, many of which, like the Air Supply music, are copyrighted and legally people don’t have the right to distribute them (LimeWire implores users not to share copyrighted stuff).

Dizzler, on the other hand, searches for music that is sitting on public servers and indexes it. So basically the site is a web browser that produces a list of as much music as it can find on the Web.  When someone does a search for Air Supply, Dizzler searches the web and finds Air Supply music on a variety of computers, and when you click play, the Dizzler player creates a connection between the user’s computer and the computer that has the music. That connection is encrypted so the user never knows where the music is coming from.

The music is streamed to the user’s computer, not downloaded. (Dizzler, by the way, doesn’t always function smoothly. Sometimes you’ll click a song and a different tune will play and organizing a playlist is not really intuitive, but hey, you get what you pay for, right?)

Legally, Phil says, it’s a “grey area. [Sites like Dizzler] get shut down all the time but keep springing up.”

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