The Center for Democracy and Technology has released a list of music sites that the nonprofit advocacy group claims are not licensed to distribute at least a substantial number of tunes from major record labels.
The 34 sites listed advertise, describe, or promote themselves in ways that imply the availability of mainstream music to which they have not obtained the rights, the CDT said. Nevertheless, the sites charge fees to users, who may believe they are getting access to licensed music.
In addition, the CDT claims the sites promote consumer misunderstanding about the legal status of music downloads through statements or omissions in the way they characterized their services or legal status, or by making important legal disclosures too obscure or hard to find to be useful.
The sites, according to the Record Industry Association of America, do not appear to be authorized to distribute major label music in the United States, and "as best we can tell [do] not disclose that fact prominently to potential users," the CDT said in releasing the list Wednesday.
Finally, the CDT claimed none of the sites provided a satisfactory response to a letter asking for proof as to why they shouldn't be placed on the list.
"In short, if you are an Internet user in the United States and you pay money to one of these services with the intention of being a lawful online music user, you may get less than you bargained for," the CDT said. The group focused only on music licensed for sale in the United States.
The idea for the list stems from a March 2005 complaint the CDT filed with the Federal Trade Commission, alleging that two sites were deceptively claiming to offer "100% legal" music and video downloads. Rather than provide licensed downloads, the sites merely provided software and instructions for using free file-sharing networks on which copyright infringement was rampant.
The FTC brought charges against one of the sites, mp3downloadcity.com, and in May 2006 reached a settlement with the site operator, who agreed to make refunds to customers, to refrain from making misleading claims, and to disclose the legal risks of downloading copyrighted material from peer-to-peer networks.
The CDT describes itself as a nonprofit advocacy group that develops practical legal, technological, and political mechanisms to promote free expression and privacy in global communications, including the Internet.