Free download store opening soon

Legal downloaders in the US and Canada will be able to snap up albums from the likes of Beck and Razorlight for nothing this winter when a free online store launches with the backing of the Universal Music Group.Spiralfrog will launch over the pond in December, and will get its income from heavy advertising rather than sales. According to the unlaunched store, Universal has agreed to supply its back catalogue for the launch, and more record labels are likely to follow suit.The signing of Universal is a good omen for the fledgling download store. The label’s the world’s biggest, with hundreds of diverse acts from Beck to Jimi Hendrix to the Mercury prize nominated Guillemots (pictured) on its books. It’s bad news though for Apple’s iTunes and particularly Microsoft, which is planning to launch its own paid-for online shop later this year for its Zune player.Unlike previous illegal sources that offered free downloads such as Kazaa, Spiralfrog’s files will have an unconfirmed DRM protection to stop the music being shared at crippling cost to artists and labels. Spiralfrog was unavailable to confirm whether or not the site could launch in the UK in 2007, but it’s likely to depend on the success of the beta version. Although the New York-based company promises that advertising will be ‘non-intrusive and contextually-relevant’, the number of users will be heavily influenced by just how damn annoying this aspect of the site proves to be. There’s little info on there at the moment, but keep an eye on the official site (link below) for more updates.