Just Beat It, iTunes

Before 2007, the most promising alternative to the iTunes monolith was a Russian website, allofmp3.com. With no special software, anyone in the world could download any song they wanted in whatever format they wanted (AAC, mp3, ogg, FLAC).

The user would only be charged for the bandwidth used to transmit the songs, making the cost of an album about 1 or 2 dollars. In return, allofmp3 paid the Russian state organization ROMS, similar to our RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), for the use of copyrighted songs.

However, the RIAA does not recognize ROMS as a legitimate organization and refuses to OK any royalties collected by that organization. Thus, all of the American artists on the website were having their copy-righted music downloaded and not collecting on the use of that copyright.

In January, the RIAA convinced VISA and Mas-tercard to stop doing business with allofmp3, essentially disallowing anyone in the United States from buying music from that site.

Luckily, a similar site called mp3stor.com opened up in 2006, sporting a simi-lar user interface and pricing scheme. To use mp3stor, you must create an account and deposit a minimum of 10 dollars into that account. Then you can choose from their extremely extensive catalog of artists, including an extensive selection of independent artists, and purchase the unrestricted mp3s, usually for less than 20 cents (two cents per megabyte).

To test the catalog of musicians offered, I searched for popular (Gnarls Barkley, Cream), indie (Madvillain, Tokyo Police Club), and obscure bands (Ephel Duath). All of the artists’ discs were easily located, except for an older Ephel Duath album. In browsing, all genres-even classical and world music-seemed very well represented.

After adding albums or songs to your download list, you must either click and download each song of an album individually (a royal pain) or use a download manager to download by album. I used DownItAll, a Firefox extension, and an album was on my hard drive in a few short minutes. The quality of these recordings is excellent and only the most hardcore of audio-philes will take issue with the fidelity of the mp3s.

There are a few foibles with the mp3stor interface. One is that it’s not streamlined and is likely to confuse many of us with short attention spans. Also, having to use a download manager is a small pain if you don’t use one regularly.

Sadly mp3stor only offers downloads as mp3s, with no availability of other formats or control over quality. Their progenitor, allofmp3, offered many different formats and allowed you to control the quality of the recording sent to you. This feature, along with simplified downloading, is sorely missed in its twin.

Despite its flaws, mp3stor is an excellent online music store. So…is it legal?

The answer is… somewhat.

While mp3stor operates in full compliance with Russian law, we unfortunately do not live in Russia. Discussions online liken it to buying a cheaper book from amazon.uk instead of amazon.com. It’s an iffy ground, but there will never be broad-scale prosecutions like with peer-to-peer clients; so the worst that could happen is that once the RIAA catches on, you may not be able to refill your account balance.

While mp3stor is no allofmp3, it does allow you to download very inexpensive music and transfer those songs onto any de-vice with no restrictions. If you’re looking for music on the cheap and are okay with murky copyright issues, mp3stor is for you. Studies have shown that in order to significantly stop piracy, music would have to be sold for about 2 or 3 dollars per album. MP3stor is one of the first to implement such a fair pricing scheme.