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Legal Music Download. A real challenge!

There, I tried it. Following the heart's desire of my daughter, I promised her to get her a copy of Britney Spear's song Everytime (don't blame me for that ;) but tell me, how'd you resist the bright eyed smile of a 6 year old girl). As I wouldn't go that far buying the Single-CD, I thought about downloading it (from a legal source of course, thus, paying it).

The task

  • Find a store that sells Online Music for download
  • Find the desired song.
  • Pay for it and download it.
  • Listen to it

The environment (this one will be relevant soon)

  • OS: Windows XP Professional SP1a
  • Browser: Mozilla 1.6 (with Pop-Up Blocker activated)
  • Kerio Personal Firewall (set to default security level)
  • Windows Media Player 8.0

The process

First, I had to determine a source that actually offers this service. Fired up Google and entered the search terms "music" and "download". Uhm....okay, as you may guess the first page showed up a lot of those mp3 pirate sites. Skimmed through the next 3 pages and didn't find anything. I added the word "legal" to my search. This brought up a lot of online magazines talking about Digital Rights Management, about the losses the music industry claims to have made due to illegal downloads. But yet no source offering me what I wanted. I ended up looking at a press release of a company that signed all major labels in Germany in order to offer legal music downloads. On that page I finally detected links to theservices I was looking for. Great, now we're on a roll. I chose the online shop of one of the biggest German Entertainment Electronic shops called MediaMarkt. (Link:

The page was organized pretty straight forward (okay, far from being valid, standards compliant or accessible, but that wasn't part of the task this time). I immediately found the "Top 10 Charts" link and the song I wished to download. What wasn't there (on neither page I checked later on) was information about file format, file size, compression format and quality. Hmmmmm...., okay, didn't worry about that because I knew it was for my daughter and the song would end being recorded onto a Music Cassette, so quality wasn't the point here. If it were for me, I'd hesitated now asking myself, why the h*** don't they tell me what I've to expect. C'mon folks, I am going to pay for it!

Ahh...forgot to mention. The download of one song is labelled with a cost of 99 Eurocent (equals US Currency of approx. $1.23). That's pretty much, but well, let's not start whining about that.

Nevertheless, I hit that add to basket button to purchase the song and finally see what would happen. But arrrgh...the following message was served to me:

System Check Failure !

We're sorry, but if you want to gain access to our audio files you need to fulfill the following requirements:

  • Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher = Not available
  • JavaScript 1.2 = Not available or not activated
  • Cookies = Not accepted
  • Windows Media Player 7.1 or higher = Not available or not installed

Crap! Afterwards I despairingly tried five other services all displaying me the same stubborn error message. No way around it, I had to come clean and click that blue "e"-sign in my Program menu (Can't tell you how much I hated that). Well, finally I came past that error message just to learn that there is to be due an additional transaction fee of 10 Eurocent. So the overall cost of that download would sum up to 1.09 EURO (equals US currency of $1.32).

Purchasing process actually was a big pain in the a**. I had to fill out a HUGE contact form. I was wondering if they'd like to know the size of my shoes or my sexual orientation as well.

Proceeding to payment. FirstGate micropayment. That's good, I am lucky here, because I already got a FirstGate account. If I hadn't, that would have been some more forms to fill out. Cheer up folks, finally the download window popped up and I was able to save a 3.8 MB .wma file onto my hard disk. I was then informed that I am allowed to listen to it (hahaha, they're kidding, aren't they?). I may even export it (whatever that means) and I am granted the right to burn it on a CD 3 times (ahhhh, celebrate!!)

Sorry people, if this is the attempt to sell music online and make people stay away from peer-to-peer networks and pirate sites, this is not going to work. I am wondering if the big labels are really interested in making it work! Regarding the whining and bitching they do, they should be, but never know.

Maybe it would be a good thing to make the responsible people aware of some good posts out there:
Thoughts on the people-centric web
Users, Contingency Design, Clients etc...

But why, oh why do I doubt it would help?

Posted by Minz Meyer at July 14, 2004, 12:40 AM | To Top

Other ingredients

If u ever need to download (legal) music again, you might wanna check out It's a russion site who claims to be legal in selling it's music (it has been in the papers here in Holland also, everything seemed legal). The best part is, you can select your own file format, bit-rate, etc. AND IT IS CHEAP! 0.70 US Dollar for an entire CD! (192 kbit mp3).

This is not an ad or something :) I just very much like the site!

Posted by: Dennis de Grauw at July 14, 2004 07:20 PM | Let Cool (this ingredient)

Thanks for the pointer Dennis, I'll have a look at it.
But it is really more the point about HOW those folks are offering their service rather than how much it does cost.

Posted by: Minz Meyer at July 16, 2004 07:00 PM | Let Cool (this ingredient)

Yes, with such unintuitive websites it is no surprise that file sharing networks like kazaa and bit-torrent are still going strong. Mac users have i-tunes, of course, which seems to be all the rage right now, but PC users have been neglected.

I hate filling out forms. They always seem to want to know irrelevent details, or to have you repeat the same thing over and over.

Posted by: Jim Amos at July 16, 2004 08:52 PM | Let Cool (this ingredient)

Nice and true article.
My problem ist furthermore, that I'd never pay for wma. ogg, mp3, all fine.
But I cant even play wma on my pc.
And next problem is, that I dont listen to the music from major labels. Too bad that great bands like HIM, Oomph! and L'ame Immortelle are on majors, but thats their decision.

Posted by: Christoph Wagner at July 25, 2004 09:31 PM | Let Cool (this ingredient)

Just browsing around and came across this site. Very nice design. I thought you should know that the iTunes Music Store is not just for Mac users. It is for PC users as well. It has been this way for almost a year now. It has, however only been available to those in Europe for a month or two. There are many indie bands as well as major labels. Frankly, I will continue to use encrypted file sharing such as soulseek to demo the music. If I like I will buy a CD. The quality of any lossy codec just does not compare. Good luck.

Posted by: Jason at July 28, 2004 12:23 AM | Let Cool (this ingredient)

"But it is really more the point about HOW those folks are offering their service"

That's one more reason is the best music store I've found. Its web interface works with all browsers and platforms (I've used it with Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows), and the interface is elegant with music exceedingly easy to find, encode, and download. is another site - not quite as well designed, but it's available in many more languages for international users.

Posted by: Paul D at July 30, 2004 08:36 PM | Let Cool (this ingredient)

The big labels are really stupid... there's lots of older music, jazz, blues, folk, that millions of people crave for and that's just lying around on dusty shelves. They could make a lot of money out of it without any distributions costs. Instead they pay milions of dollars on lawyers and harebrained schemes like DRM and make it increasingly difficult to obtain music legally. Rates like $1 to $1.50 per song of course are ridiculuos. The popularity of the p2p-networks stems directly from this rigid attitude that seems to consider all music lovers as criminals in disguise.

The best service I encountered a while ago was EMusic ( with a very simple and extremely functional interface. At the time you were able to download as much as you liked for just $15 a month, but since then they have it restricted to 65 tracks, which makes it about $3.50 an entire album (they have a great jazz and blues collection). The best proposition indeed seems to be (they have 29 Duke Ellington albums) which charges $0.01 to $0.02 per MB while giving you the choice which compression rate you prefer - even no compression.

Posted by: Henk de Boer at July 31, 2004 12:00 PM | Let Cool (this ingredient)

iTunes! iTunes! iTunes! :)

Posted by: Small at August 16, 2004 02:11 PM | Let Cool (this ingredient)

I don't know about you in Germany, but here in Holland it is actually legal to download music from P2P networks (yes, the very same the RIAA are fighting in "the Land of the Free").

Posted by: Ben at August 19, 2004 04:43 PM | Let Cool (this ingredient)

It'll be a cold day in hell before I pay for music on the internet. :)

Posted by: Dante Evans at August 20, 2004 06:33 AM | Let Cool (this ingredient)