ZapTunes to offer free downloads

Website claiming limited usage of Beatles, AC/DC tracks

The mysterious San Francisco-based Web site ZapTunes is claiming to offer unlimited downloads — free for an unspecified limited time — by acts like the Beatles and AC/DC, who have never licensed their music for sale on the Internet.

However, an examination of the site’s published terms of use indicates that it does not in fact act as a download service, and that the tracks it supposedly is offering for sale are displayed “for promotional purposes only.”

Apparently launched Aug. 26, ZapTunes.com trumpets a catalog of 8 million songs available as DRM-free MP3s. The company’s press release, serviced last week via PRWeb, said the service is “100% legal.”

ZapTunes said it will charge $25 per month for unlimited downloads. The company said it would offer free downloads until 10,000 members have signed up.

“We have negotiated with the top label companies to let us offer unlimited downloads to our members in exchange for a loyalty management (sic),” the site says.

The site requires members to supply credit card information up front. A note on the site says, “This is a requirement set by most of the label companies we are working with. They just want us to have a credit card number on file for every member that signs up, in case if they want to start charging for downloads in future.”

The true nature of ZapTunes’ service is buried in the “Terms of Use” section of the Web site: “ZapTunes.com does not provide any downloads from its servers. ZapTunes.com just enables its members to find free or paid music available on the Internet. The Artists/Tracks displayed on the home page and other parts of the website are for promotional purposes only and may not be available for free or paid download.”

Purported availability of music by the Beatles and AC/DC on ZapTunes is a red flag, since both groups have adamantly refused to license their music for sale anywhere on the Web to date.

In an Aug. 30 story posted on the music/technology site Hypebot, ZapTunes spokesman Anand Patel said regarding the site’s alleged rights to market the Beatles, “We have a contract with Sony Music, who hold the rights to most of the Beatles music. I am sorry, but right now I cannot give you more details about this contract.”

Sony/ATV Music Publishing controls the Beatles’ song catalog, while EMI Music releases their album catalog.

Calls to Patel were not returned, and he did not respond to an e-mail.

Spokespersons for EMI and Sony Music Entertainment, which controls AC/DC’s classic catalog, had no comment on ZapTunes’ representations.

Last year, EMI filed a copyright infringement suit against Media Rights Technologies, a Northern California firm that offered Beatles tracks for sale at 25¢ apiece through its site Bluebeat.com (Daily Variety, Nov. 4).

Information about ZapTunes and its execs is scarce. The site’s domain name was registered in July by a Reginald Hutchinson via a San Mateo, Calif.-based privacy service.

The “About Us” section of the Web site identifies ZapTunes’ principals as chief executive officer John Stewart, chief technical officer Ronald Hems and chief information office Jessica Mayers.

The site says Hems is a 20-year veteran of such tech companies as Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo! and Cisco, but a Google search does not turn up any information about anyone of that name at those companies. No job histories are provided for Stewart and Mayers.