Updated with comment from KaZaA: KaZaA, whose once-popular file-sharing service was shut down in 2006 as part of a settlement with the music industry, is back in the headlines. Now it’s said to be launching a web-based legal music download service with the support of all four major labels. Sounds like a great story, especially in light of The Pirate Bay’s efforts to go legit. If only it were true.
KaZaA’s purported rise from the ashes has been featured on CNet, Gizmodo, Billboard.com and BBC News, to name just a few. The Sydney Morning Herald was even able to get a few quotes from Brilliant Digital CEO Kevin Bermeister, who was seen as the arch nemesis of the music industry during the KaZaA trial, but now promotes paid downloads as a “quality legal product.”
The paper is dutifully reporting that Bermeister’s company, who is running the service on KaZaA’s behalf, “appears to have the support of the music industry” because KaZaA’s download offering is going to feature some 1 million tracks from all the major labels and a handful of independents. It uses Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM and offers unlimited downloads for around $20 per month — what Gizmodo calls a “2005-style” music service.
It’s no coincidence that the folks at Gizmodo and other publications said they had flashbacks when they read about KaZaA’s comeback — the whole offering is old news, strategically recycled for maximum exposure. Corporate sibling Altnet.com has been offering a DRM-restricted download service for $20 per month since late 2007. The service, dubbed “Altnet Music Club,” has been featured on the Kazaa.com homepage since early 2008. It was completely integrated into KaZaA’s web site site a couple months back and has been heavily promoted with Adsense ads ever since.
What about that cooperation with the music industry? That’s old news as well. Altnet’s and KaZaA’s offerings are basically repackaged subscription services from Medianet, a company that used to be known as Musicnet. Major media players like Yahoo and AOL use to feature the same kind of subscriptions, albeit a lot cheaper. Most of these offerings have been shut down because people just don’t want to pay for DRM-restricted music downloads.
So why is KaZaA in the news this week for an outdated service it’s been offering for years? That’s a story as odd as the music service itself. The company issued a press release two weeks ago that was as strange as they come: The Kazaa.com domain name was misspelled; a well-known hacker who committed suicide last year endorsed the service; and KaZaA’s new offering was linked to Jammie Thomas, who was recently handed a $1.92 million court verdict for using the old, unauthorized KaZaA version to download music. And it featured a number of links labeled “free music” that were pointing to Kazaa.com. Plain-old SEO, aimed at Google’s bots, not journalists.
Regardless, the release was still picked up by a number of web sites, so maybe KaZaA smelled an opportunity to get back into the headlines. Greg Sandoval over at CNet reported this weekend that “sources close to the company” pitched him the story of an upcoming launch, and others are reporting that KaZaA plans to return on Tuesday. To be honest, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Maybe KaZaA will relaunch its site to slap a new face on its old service, or maybe it will just issue another bizarre press release.
We’ve left a message with the company seeking more info, but only received an email auto-reply. Turns out the person who published the KaZaA press release two weeks back is out of the office this week, just in time for the supposed comeback. But I guess that’s excusable. After all, he’s only the company’s SEO expert. Update: KaZaA emailed us a short statement, explaining that the company is working on a video player that “will be released (within) a control group,” and adding: “The digital music subscription is still [$]19.98.”