Big record labels give songs to P2P network charity single remains AWOL from Apple charity single remains AWOL from Apple

Music industry bigwigs are finally warming to the idea of peer-to-peer file sharing. So much so, in fact, three of the major record labels have agreed to license their catalogues to a P2P network.

Sony, BMG and Universal have announced their P2P system, named Peer Impact, will be available in the first quarter of 2005 and will be "content distribution service that will provide legal, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing services for its members" where consumers will be able to chat about their favourite bands, as well as share and buy music.

How precisely the system will work is still under wraps, however, as the service claims: "It's imperative that we keep a few things secret right now" but promise the site will be based on "legal and secure" file sharing. As well as music, related content including video clips can be shared.

The site, which bears the slogan "it pays to share", could well be based on a recommendations system, where users who have bought a track can pass on short clips of the music to friends and are rewarded with credit towards buying more songs.

BT's own recently launched music service includes software that can work on the same principle and is designed to take advantage of the fact that music fans often have communities based around their favourite bands.

According to industry association the British Phonographic Association (BPI), the music industry is looking at a record year - with the singles market getting a new lease of life, in no small part thanks to the burgeoning download market.

Around 1.75 million download tracks were sold in the UK between July and September, compared with 7.3 million physical format singles. According to the BPI figures, the singles market showed a 12 per cent decline in the third quarter of this year - however, when digital singles are included, the singles market shows a nine per cent increase.

One single not showing up on the biggest legal download site, Apple's iTunes, is the charity single Do They Know It's Christmas? by Band Aid 20. According to Times Online, Apple is refusing to sell the song because it doesn't fit in with its pricing policy.

Other online song shops have been selling the charity single at its agreed price of £1.50, while, the Times Online says, Apple doesn't want to break it's 79p-per-track policy.

Apple declined to comment but its thought the company is still in negotiations with Universal, the record company behind the song.