Music Pirates Find Download Tools On Microsoft's Windows Phone 8

As on Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, a number of apps allowing users to download free and copyrighted music have cropped up on Microsoft's Windows Phone.

Windows Phone apps including Audiotica, Music And Ringtones Downloader and Sky Music all allow users to download music - including, it should be said, legally available tunes as well as copyrighted files. But while some apps put up obstacles that make downloading difficult, both Audiotica and an app called Amazing Music make it as easy as the numerous MP3 downloading apps that appear on the Google Play app store for Android.

Of course, these apps could strip potential revenue away from Microsoft's own recently launched Xbox Music Service, which allows both free music streaming and a la carte purchases. But Microsoft also must approve each app before it's published, meaning that Amazing Music and others have Microsoft's blessing, of a sort.

Piracy Lives!

What most online users know, however, is that music piracy is alive and well.

Audiotica Audiotica

In 2010, a court ordered Lime Wire LLC to disconnect the Limewire peer-to-peer service from the Gnutella network, effectively killing the service. But a number of alternatives still exist, and the methods of peer-to-peer file sharing have gone far beyond sharing individual songs, as Napster did many years ago. These days, sites like The Pirate Bay offer collections like the top 1,000 songs of the last 30 years, in addition to pirated movies and software. 

On the Web, trying to stop pirated music and movies is like trying to stop the flow of illegal drugs: Some get caught, more go free. From 2002 or so on, BitTorrent replaced Napster as the peer-to-peer file sharing architecture of choice; research house NPD reports that only 37% of music acquired by U.S. consumers in 2009 was paid for. One in four Internet users accesses an unlicensed service, the IPFI/Nielsen said in January 2012, even though digital music revenues, worldwide, climbed 8% to $5.2 billion. A proposed copyright alert system to issue a sort of “six strikes” policy against American copyright infringers based on ISP notifications will begin rolling out soon, a Center for Copyright Information spokeswoman said in an email, but even the final strike will not include termination of a user’s Internet service.

The exchange for pirating individual songs, meanwhile, has moved to smartphones. Apps on all three mobile platforms offer the possibility of downloading copyrighted music without paying for it. That's even though all three app stores prohibit it. Apple’s app approval process is thought to be the most stringent of the three, but Microsoft also has an active approval process. A Windows Phone app must not violate rule 3.7 of Microsoft’ content policy for Windows Phone: “Unauthorized use of another entity’s intellectual property, including but not limited to: software, music, art, and other copyrighted, trademarked or patented materials or trade secrets.”

Microsoft did not reply to a request for comment.

Legal Alternatives

That doesn’t mean that users can use these apps only to download copyrighted music. Virtually all of the app descriptions make sure to state that users can download "100% legal music" in the public domain. The loophole lends some legitimacy to the software, just as BitTorrent can be used to download legal Linux distributions. But for those who want it, copyrighted music is easily available, as shown in the screenshots for Music Collector, an iOS app that promises to let users "download any music you want.” The images show copyrighted songs from Katy Perry and Britney Spears, among others.

Music-download apps have existed on Google Android for years, allowing users to type in a song or artist and download songs directly to their phone. Because users can’t selectively listen to individual song selections on their phones from licensed services such as MOG, Slacker or Spotify (they typically have to pay $9.99 per month for the privilege) the music download apps have developed their own market niche.

On Windows, the relative dearth of music downloader apps means fewer choices for music freeloaders. Music And Ringtones Downloader and Sky Music put up obstacles to downloading copyrighted material, forcing users to work through a Web page or a list of servers to manually approve and “friend.” (The Audiotica app didn’t generate any results on my first use, although it seemed to work normally on subsequent attempts.)

Amazing Music's search page Amazing Music's search page Amazing Music offered one-stop shopping - downloading music straight to the phone. On its “copyright” page, Amazing Music notes that it doesn’t store any links to content, and all are “provided from internet” via a “searching engine.” The app asks that all “cached” (read: downloaded) data be removed from the phone within 24 hours, and specified that the app doesn’t download the music to other other devices. And then there’s this final nugget: “Note: All of the contents in this application only can be used in China.”

Of course, simply eliminating these app won’t stop the downloading or the creation of new alternatives. A year ago, I wrote about Google’s problem with music downloading via Android. I highlighted one app, named MP3 Music Download Pro. Today there are three identically named apps on Google Play.