Eight months after its abortive launch at the MidemNet conference in Cannes, Qtrax is back on course according to New York-based CEO and chairman Allan Klepfisz.

During the demonstration of Qtrax - a free, ad-funded "legal" hybrid P2P service - at Berlin's Popkomm music conference, the only hitch was a slow connection to the site. In January, the service was thrown into confusion when a high-profile launch was stopped when the majors suddenly made clear that Qtrax was not authorized to distribute their content after all.

At Popkomm, Klepfisz confirmed that Universal Music Group and EMI Music Group are on board - both majors announced the deals in June - and their music can be downloaded from the site in the U.S. only.

Klepfisz was one of the speakers at Popkomm's "P2P & Music Conference," organized by the U.S.-based Distributed Computing Industry Association. "Peer-to-peer remains a dirty word to some people in the music industry," said Klepfisz.

But there was undoubtedly more industry acceptance in the room about the need to somehow monetize P2P users rather than sue them. RightsFlow CEO and president Patrick Sullivan worked on the legal case against Napster for the National Music Publishers' Association several years ago, but now wants engagement. "It's really back to the consumers and what consumers want," he said. "It shouldn't be an industry dictated by attorneys."

Klepfisz demonstrated Qtrax's added social network features: it incorporates a browser and users can share playlists and get recommendations. He told Billboard.biz that the U.S. launch in mid-June was deliberately low-key, but it will roll out properly and include other territories.

"They [U.S. customers] can use the service as we speak," he said. "We haven't publicized that, we won't be doing that until we have a broader selection of content available. But they can be using the service today and be happily downloading Universal and EMI music."

He declined to give dates for the service launching in the U.K. and Europe, but it's understood that licensing arrangements could be agreed in the fourth quarter.

Klepfisz said: "We've probably spoken too early on prior occasions, let's have everything in place we want in place and then we'll make a loud noise about it."

He added: "The licensing process is a very long process, we thought it was necessary to dedicate ourselves to never allowing a single song to be downloaded or played that wasn't licensed.

"That meant that we had some unfortunate incidents in trying to get to the point where it could all be licensed, but we are confident that in the end we will have the sort of licensing we require to have a very viable service."

He declined to comment on whether the majors would have equity in Qtrax. "I shouldn't speak about private arrangements, but our view is that we want our partners to be very fully involved, that refers to major partners, indie partners, all partners," he said.

"I think it's important that people just recognize that it's important to have an ad-supported service that has a very good chance of being viable, and provides the consumer with something that's really high quality."

During the "P2P & Music Conference," Madrid-based MP2P Technologies was awarded the 2008 DCIA Pioneer's Award.

"With the release of Blubster 3.0, P2P meshes with Web 2.0 to take the discovery of music to a whole new level,” said CEO and developer Pablo Soto in a statement. “We are honored and grateful to celebrate its release while simultaneously receiving this award from the DCIA, an organization devoted to propelling P2P to new heights."

Elsewhere, in a lively A&R debate hosted by Billboard International Bureau Chief Mark Sutherland, indies and majors clashed over who was to blame for the decline in traditional artist development.

"The majors don't put [enough] money into research," claimed Rene Rennefeld of independent German production house and artist development company Lautstark Music. "When I worked for a major they gave me a budget to develop acts -- a lot didn't work, but a lot did and we didn't spend so much money."

"Artist development shifted out of the majors a long time ago," agreed Marcus Bunte, A&R manager for German publisher Wintrup Music. "Now it's done by smaller companies or publishers or management companies or Internet companies."

But Jaro Slavik, in charge of business development in Eastern Europe for Warner Music, hit back: "We are spending on A&R. We are forced to, because we know it's the only way to survive. Breaking a new artist internationally is the biggest challenge we have."

Popkomm ends today (Oct. 10) after three days of trade fair, industry conference and a live program featuring over 400 artists.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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