Music For Nothing (And Your Clicks For Free)

So there you are, doing whatever it is that you call work on your PC while the radio station you've selected plays in the background. Whoops, there's that song you love, the one from the album you've been meaning to buy but haven't yet. No problem, just hit the record button on your desktop and save it as an MP3 file. Now you can listen to that song all day, or at least until your co-workers scream for mercy.

Sounds nifty all right, but is it legal? D-Link sure must think so, or it wouldn't be in full production mode of its new USB PC Radio. The Irvine, Calif., company's latest product promises a full FM-band radio receiver, along with software that lets the user capture and record music from any of 200 pre-set stations. The price is right - just $29 - and the hardware requirements are pretty basic: A free USB port and Windows 98 or higher.

D-Link marketing VP Bradley Morse sounds downright giddy about the product.

"The key is that it's unique and simple," Morse says. "It was designed for an engineer here for himself, then we went ahead and designed the casing to make it look more marketable. Now we're getting orders of 10,000 at a time. What's neat is that it converts analog into digital, you save it as a WAV file, translate it into MP3 and it ends up being perfect sound when it shouldn't be.

It's one of those products that's silly, fun and priced right. It even looks like a digital radio right on your computer screen."

One might think there would be a certain amount of kicking and screaming from the music industry over this development, but one would be wrong. Radio research firmArbitron spokeswoman Joan Fitzgerald is sanguine about the idea:

"We've done a series of Internet studies on trends and listening trends, and our latest study found that listeners are keenly interested in this sort of thing. We asked if they were interested in a radio dial on their computer screen and they thought that was a very interesting idea."

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is taking an equally hands-off position on products like this. A representative replied to an e-mailed query that "it's not really in our bailiwick," suggesting that the National Association of Broadcasters might have something to say. It's a puzzling (anti-)stance for the RIAA to take, given their stated goal of licensing sound recordings over the Internet.

From here, it looks like this product lets a PC radio listener record any song, anytime, with a click of the wrist. Nice for the consumer; not so nice for the artist, who doesn't get paid. But hey, if information longs to be free, music does too. Right?

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