The lowdown on downloading music

October 29, 2005|By NEWSDAY

Download a tune from an online music service, pay with a credit card and the song's yours.

Or is it?

Despite the marketing muscle, and the phenomenal success of iTunes and the you-know-what-Pod, there remain a number of Internet music distributors -- MSN Music, Rhapsody, Sony's Connect and others -- that will gladly take your money but confuse you with varying policies, download formats and restrictions.

To help stay in tune with what's going on, here are some points to remember when diving into the music-download pool:

Prices are fairly uniform. Usually it's a dollar or less for a track; $10 or less for an album.

Most sites allow access from multiple computers, but there are limits. In most cases, subscribers have to "license" or authorize their PCs. With iTunes, for example, Apple's terms specify, "You shall be authorized to use the product on five Apple-authorized computers." Other sites offer less access.

Formats and files: This is still confusing, since a compression format supported by one site may not be used by another, or by a different make of player. For example, an iPod is not an "MP3 player"; data from the iTunes store are downloaded in the AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) format, and an iPod cannot play songs from Microsoft's WMA file format.

Almost all sites allow unrestricted copying (burning) of music to blank CDs "for personal, noncommercial use." It's a good idea to keep that caveat in mind: As history shows, the recording industry isn't shy about instituting lawsuits when it feels threatened.

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