Former illegal filesharing network Qtrax has announced the launch of what it says is the first legal, free peer-to-peer service at the MidemNet conference in Cannes, France.

Qtrax says it has licenses in place with the major labels and publishers, plus leading independents. The service will be advertising funded, with Qtrax president/CEO Allan Klepfisz pledging "the lion's share" of revenue will be distributed to artists, publishers and record companies. It says advertisers signed up include McDonald's, Samsung and ESPN.

It claims it will have a catalog of some 25 million tracks - five times that of Apple's iTunes - and will launch tonight from at midnight in nine countries -- although Klepfisz declined to reveal which countries.

"This service is much better than [unlicensed P2P network] LimeWire," said Klepfisz. "In 10 years time, we'd hope [this model] will generate enough income to return the music industry to its heyday."

The press conference was attended by artists including James Blunt, the Sugarhill Gang and Morris Hayes, although Blunt stressed: "I'm not here to endorse Qtrax, I'm here to learn about it. I want to see how it works in the long run. I'm amazed that we accept that it's OK to steal [music] in the first place, but the music industry is in the condition it's in so we need to find new ways of working."

Klepfisz claims portability for tracks downloaded will be available from Feb. 29, that the service will be Mac-compatible by March 18 and that it will unveil an "iPod solution" by April 15. Tracks will contain DRM, but the company says this is used to track plays rather than restrict use, and can not currently be burnt to CD.

The original Qtrax was one of several filesharing networks to emerge after the demise of the original Napster, but was shut down in 2002.