Peer-to-peer file-sharing service LimeWire has seen no decline in the number of downloads it serves since the debut of mass-market music download services, said company chief operating officer Greg Bildson.

Speaking to Macworld, Bildson said: "We have seen no effect on the number of downloads we have in a given day since the launch of iTunes. Likewise, we don't believe Napster 2.0 will have any effect on our number of downloads."

The arrival of legal electronic music distribution services is regarded as part of a music-business strategy to reduce music piracy. The music business believes it must deliver legal consumer-friendly ways for Internet-dwellers to download music as an alternative to file-sharing services, such as LimeWire (which allows Mac users to access the Gnutella network).

Through the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the music industry has also been engaged in aggressive attempts to protect its copyright through a series of legal initiatives, including the prosecution of individual file downloaders.

Bildson isn't sure the industry has gone far enough to bring services to market consumers want: "iTunes is a nice piece of software from Apple, but these music services are only a baby step in the right direction by the music industry."

Price per song

He is critical of aspects of existing legal services: "Given the economics of the Internet, selling digitally-restricted songs for 99 cents is a rip-off." He points to in-company research, which he claims prove: "Most people won't pay more than 20 cents for a song, which is why the bulk of consumers are rejecting these music services.

"LimeWire sees no reason that songs should cost more than five cents, certainly no more than 20 cents."

The music industry has been long-criticized for being late arriving on the Internet, Bildson observed: "Music executives created the piracy problems in the 1990s by not licensing their content to the many innovative companies that wanted licences. They can fix the problem now by licensing everyone that is interested at a reasonable price."

The LimeWire chief was upbeat on the possibilities in comments that echoed the words of one-time Napster CEO, Shawn Fanning. When RIAA litigation beset Napster, Fanning approached the labels asking for licenses to distribute content for a small fee, "we'll make more money than you've ever dreamed of," he said. The labels rejected the opportunity.

Bildson said: "There is a win-win situation for the music industry if it’s forward-looking enough to embrace it. Offering high-quality, low-cost MP3s would lead to explosive sales volumes and the music business would continue to make good money and actually grow their business.

"Artists would benefit tremendously if music executives got their heads out of the sand and tried to understand the digital age."