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Aurous is a free and questionably legal way to stream music

Aurous is like Apple Music, Spotify, and Rdio, in that it offers a selection of songs available to stream direct from dedicated apps. But unlike Apple Music, Spotify, and Rdio, Aurous is totally free with no ads. Where those other streaming services have negotiated expensive deals with record labels and artists to feature their music, Aurous has sidestepped that hurdle, pulling music instead from a variety of third-party sources. But while its library is still small, and its model not as obviously illegal as torrenting tracks directly, Aurous will nonetheless upset record labels and rights holders.

Built by developer Andrew Sampson and launched in alpha form this week, Aurous uses more than 120 public APIs to collate tracks from services such as SoundCloud, YouTube, and Spotify. The service also uses peer-to-peer networking, but not in the same way as Napster or The Pirate Bay — no actual songs are downloaded via torrent. Instead, Aurous uses BitTorrent to collate links directly to streaming music, found in licensed form in existing playlists, videos, or players.

Aurous has drawn comparisons to Popcorn Time

The free service has already drawn comparisons to Popcorn Time — the "Netflix for pirates" streaming service that offered a slate of movies and TV shows for free — but Sampson says that's not accurate. "We're pulling content from sources that are licensed," he told Billboard. "From a legal standpoint, what we're doing is okay. All files are streamed from legitimate sources — we don't host anything." Sampson technically has a point, but Aurous' approach is questionably legal, and has already attracted the attention of anti-piracy groups. Billboard reports that the RIAA is currently scrutinizing the service, while for-profit piracy watchdog Rightscorp hit out in late September, claiming before Aurous launched that it had the technology to stop it from collecting the data it needs to find its songs.

In addition to potentially acceptable locations, such as official promotional streams and music videos, these services could also draw from sources that would upset record labels: tracks illegally uploaded to SoundCloud, for example, or leaked albums put on YouTube weeks before their street dates. Ads, too, could be stripped out by Aurous, denying labels extra cash per play. But Sampson says he won't fold in the face of pressure. When asked by Billboard what he'd do if Aurous received a cease-and-desist from a record label, he said he'd ignore it. "If someone asked us to shut down our service over one song, we wouldn't," he said, but he conceded that "if someone were to approach us about a pre-release album being available, we would be obliged to help them remove that."

Sampson said he'd ignore cease-and-desist letters

There's a precedent for this kind of service. Israeli startup Music Messenger also combed through third-party sources to find music, but after securing a $30 million investment and $100 valuation based on its business model, its apps are no longer available. Where Music Messenger marketed itself as a way to search for songs, Sampson is taking a different tack in public. He claims his focus is to build an offline music player, and that Aurous' search function "is not a primary feature," but it's not an entirely convincing argument. Aurous can play the music library that already exists on your computer or device, but its most enticing feature is access to the same songs you'd normally need to pay for, for free.

Sampson says he's not planning to go after licensing deals as paid-for music services have, meaning Aurous will continue to skirt the issue of legality. Although Sampson says comparisons to Popcorn Time are inaccurate, there's one distinct similarity between the two services — as Popcorn Time drew the ire of the movie and TV studios it was ripping off, Aurous is set to feel the fury of a music industry who says it's not paying its dues.