Can SpiralFrog take on iTunes?

by Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

In a refreshing change, a web start-up - SpiralFrog.com - has actually come out of beta testing and gone into full-fledged operation. SpiralFrog is yet another iTunes challenger, of which there seems to be a new one every week, and its special twist is that it is offering legal music downloads for free. Wait a minute... did they say legal music downloads for free? What's the catch?

Of course, there's a catch. A number of them actually. The site is taking a page out of Google's playbook by offering up a free service to consumers in exchange for advertising dollars. So far, SpiralFrog - which is available in Canada and the United States - says it has 800,000 tracks and 3,500 music videos available for download. Most of the content comes from Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group, the world's biggest label and the only major to sign up with SpiralFrog. Users can download music and videos for free from SpiralFrog's website - all they have to do is tolerate a few ads on the site. So far so good.

But as with just about any legal downloadable music, there are copy protections and restrictions. SpiralFrog songs can't be burned to a CD and can only be copied to two portable music players. Furthermore, users must renew their subscriptions to the site every month by answering some questions about themselves, which is sold in aggregate to advertisers. If the user doesn't renew their subscription, all their downloaded content stops working after 60 days.

That still may not be enough to dissuage users, but SpiralFrog's biggest issue just might -- songs downloaded from the site won't play on an iPod. Not being able to play your songs on more than 80 per cent of the music players our there has got to be a big strike against you. So here's the ironic question: is it possible for someone to create an iTunes killer if its songs don't work on iPods? SpiralFrog may just be giving more ammunition to antitrust regulators to go after Apple.