Call it the Summer of Digital Love: This season may go down as the moment record companies woke up and started figuring out how to sell music on the Web. Earlier this month, Downtown Records - home to Gnarls Barkley (pictured above) and now Spank Rock - revealed intentions to start RCRD LBL, an online-only imprint that will give music away for free and support itself with advertising revenue. This week's big announcement came via Qtrax, a onetime illegal file-sharing network a la the original Napster that's being re-imagined as a peer-to-peer service where listeners can stream tracks in other users' libraries, and nab them - legally. All four major record labels say they'll work with Qtrax (they'll get ad space as an incentive), permitting users to stream a song a certain number of times with the option of then buying it. The result may be the largest library of tunes available digitally, a projected 20-30 million-strong song library (compared to iTunes' five million), though details about price, copy-protection, and what the labels will make available are scarce.
Advertising-supported, legal peer-to-peer is a model that's already in place over at Ruckus, the college student-only file-swapping service that serves up two million legal tracks to anyone with a valid .edu email address. And it's also how SpiralFrog, which is due to launch in the U.S. by the end of the summer (it's now testing in Canada) will work, too - that service has announced deals with Universal and EMI. A similar system, sans advertising, is also cranking along at Lala, where users troll each other's libraries, but can only stream (and buy) full tracks by Warner Bros. artists.