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Free music: Is Deezer the new Napster?

Five years ago a host of peer-to-peer services claimed they had the legal basis to challenge old media's archaic views on music copyright. Sean Fanning's Napster was born on the premise that we shouldn't have to pay inflated prices for music, and for a while, it seemed he was going to get away with it. Fast forward to 2007, and Napster is a legitimate service, Apple's iTunes is the world's most influential music downloading service and even the likes of Kazaa and Limewire are attempting to go legit. But despite these high-profile about turns, the free music bandwagon keeps on rolling.

The newest service to hit the headlines is www.deezer.com – a music streaming service based in France that allows you to listen to tracks from a vast number of major artists, for free. You can listen to songs by the Rolling Stones, U2, Daft Punk and even PC Advisor forum member (and the winner of Britain's Got Talent), Paul Potts.

Deezer claims to have received the go-ahead from the French version of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) – SACEM – to give web users legal access to music. The site requires no registration, no username and no password and it's possible to start listening to music within seconds.

In principle, the deal with SACEM could mean web users in France could listen to the tracks without breaking any laws (although we know from objections to Russian site AllofMP3's cut-price music downloads that internet users don't care about geographical territories – many of its users were located outside of Russia). Plus, a note on Deezer's website says the music it hosts is accessible "to all internet users via a web browser", before going on to boast that the site is available in 16 different languages.

It's likely the legal status of Deezer is going to get sorted out before long, and giant music label Universal has already said it will take "all measures necessary" to get its music removed from the website. Another option is for Deezer to restrict access to French IP addresses. But web users from other countries who were seduced by the original Napster's promise of free music for everyone are likely to be tempted to give a try too.

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