LOS ANGELES – SpiralFrog.com, an ad-supported Web site that allows visitors to download music and videos free of charge, launched Monday in the U.S. and Canada after months of "beta" testing.
The music service, which has arranged to pay record companies a cut of its advertising revenue, aims to lure music fans who normally flock to online file-swapping networks to share and download music for free.
The recording industry has sued thousands of computer users for doing so in recent years.
"We believe it will be a very powerful alternative to the pirate sites," said Joe Mohen, chairman and founder of New York-based SpiralFrog Inc. "With SpiralFrog you know what you're getting ... there's no threat of viruses, adware or spyware."
To deter users from posting copies of songs and videos they get from SpiralFrog, the service requires that users register and log on to the site at least once a month. Otherwise, the content locks up and can't be played.
The Web site's registration screen queries users on demographic filters such as their age, gender and ZIP code. The information is used to determine what kind of ads the users see when they are on the site.
Like other online music services, the SpiralFrog site also features reviews and other information on its artists.
At launch, the service was offering more than 800,000 tracks and 3,500 music videos for download.
Much of that content comes by way of Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group, the world's largest record company and the only major label that has licensed its music and videos to SpiralFrog.
The site, which also boasts content from independent record labels, expects to have more than 2 million tracks over the next several months, Mohen said.
Though free, the audio and video files on SpiralFrog carry copy protections like those found on tracks available for sale at Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store and elsewhere.
Downloads cannot be burned to a CD, but they can be transferred to dozens of digital music players. The content, however, is not compatible with Apple's Macintosh computers or its market-leading iPod.
Users are allowed to copy their downloads to no more than two portable music players or compatible mobile phones at one time.
SpiralFrog began allowing some computer users to try out the service earlier this year.
The company aroused interest last fall after it announced its licensing deals with Universal Music and performing rights organization Broadcast Music Inc.
But the company missed its early 2007 launch and instead underwent an executive shuffle that ended with the ouster of then-CEO Robin Kent.
Mohen has attributed delays to the time-consuming process of obtaining rights from music publishers and other technical issues.