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A music download is the transferral of a song from an Internet-facing computer or website to a user's local computer. This term encompasses both legal downloads and downloads of copyright material without permission or payment.
Popular examples of online music stores that sell digital singles and albums include the iTunes Store, Napster, Zune Marketplace, Amazon MP3, Nokia Music Store, TuneTribe, Kazaa and eMusic. Paid downloads are sometimes encoded with Digital Rights Management that restricts making extra copies of the music or playing purchased songs on certain digital audio players. They are almost always compressed using a lossy codec (usually MPEG-1 Layer 3 or Windows Media), reducing file size and therefore bandwidth requirements.
However, this may cause an apparent loss in quality to a listener when compared to a CD, and cause compatibility issues with certain software and devices. Uncompressed files and losslessly compressed files are available at some sites.
As of 2006, digital music sales are estimated to have reached a trade value of approximately US$2 billion, with tracks available through 500 online services located in 40 countries, representing around 10 percent of the total global music market. Around the world in 2006, an estimated five billion songs, equating to 38,000 years in music, were swapped on peer-to-peer websites, while 509 million were purchased online. As of January 2011, Apple's iTunes Store alone saw $1.1 billion of revenue in fiscal Q1.
Music downloads offered by artists
Some artists allow their songs to be downloaded from their websites, often as a short preview or a low-quality sampling. Others have embedded services in their sites that allow purchases of their singles or albums.
Challenges to legal music downloads
Even legal music downloads have faced a number of challenges from artists, record labels and the Recording Industry Association of America. In July 2007, the Universal Music Group decided not to renew their long-term contracts with iTunes. This legal challenge was primarily based upon the issue of pricing of songs, as Universal wanted to be able to charge more or less depending on the artist, a shift away from iTunes' standard 99 cents per song pricing. Many industry leaders feel that this is only the first of many show-downs between Apple Inc. and the various record labels.