Interested in free, legal music for your iPod? Visit the new iLounge Free Music section of our site, featuring daily updated links to great indie and major artist releases available for immediate download!

If you have an iPod and far fewer songs than Gigabytes of storage space, you’ve probably asked one of iLounge’s most popular questions: “how can I load my iPod up with free music?”

There are at least two answers to this question, one generally illegal, and one generally legal. You’ve probably already heard about the illegal free music options, but just in case you haven’t, we’ll run through the reasons you’ll want to skip them and use the legal free music sites instead.

Illegal Free Music: Downloads with Consequences

Six years ago, the sheer quantity of open challenges to American copyright law created a popular perception that music – old and new alike – was supposed to be free, and “shared” between friends and strangers alike. Upon release of just about any new album (and sometimes even before), full MP3-format tracks appeared on music-sharing services such as Napster and Kazaa, spreading around the world without restriction. Many recording artists were angered by what they felt was mass theft of their music, while others either ignored or embraced the file-sharing.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) decided to fight the “music is free” movement, undertaking highly publicized lawsuits on behalf of artists it represented. Services such as Napster were sued for billions of dollars as facilitators of copyright infringement, and either driven out of business or forced into retreat. Subsequently, RIAA lawsuits against individuals shut down large resources of “shared” music, and warned others that swapping smaller quantities of copyrighted content could subject them to similar legal action.

RIAA lawsuits haven’t stopped the trading of copyrighted music online, but they’ve turned file-sharing into a game of Russian Roulette. For obvious reasons, iLounge does not recommend the sharing or downloading of “free” music from file-sharing services unless you know for sure that the artist has specifically given permission for that music to be shared.

Non-U.S. Music Download Sites: A Dangerous Gray Area

The average person should be aware that there’s likely something wrong about getting entire free albums for nothing, but what if they were offered for four cents per song, instead of ten or more dollars per album? If you pay something for your downloads, is that enough to protect yourself from being sued?

That’s the question posed by a few fly-by-night web sites – often operated by individuals outside of the United States – that purport to offer penny-per-megabyte downloads of popular music. One of the more notable, AllofMP3.com, offers a surprisingly robust collection of albums from major recording artists in the compressed audio format of your choice, More amazingly, songs are available for download at rates of under 10 cents per track, and the site has claimed for months – without public legal challenge, at least – that it is operating legally under Russian law. Competing site Weblisten.com offers a similar downloading service from Spain. Other sites offering similarly priced downloads of major recording artists’ products, such as the Spanish site Puretunes.com, have been sued and shut down.

iLounge doesn’t take a position on the legality of any of these specific sites, as they operate under foreign legal systems and may or may not be entitled to offer the pricing and unprotected files they are selling. We urge our readers to exercise caution before assuming that any “purchased” music from these stores is a replacement for store-purchased CDs or licensed tracks from established domestic vendors of digital music.

Downloading Free Music Without Fear

With so many questions regarding the legality of international and domestic music downloads – questions which in accordance with the RIAA’s litigation strategy have created a blanket presumption of downloading fear that may not be entirely justified – there are only a handful of major free music download sites that guarantee that users are not breaking any laws. The best we’ve seen are listed below.

3hive.com: A great blog-style listing of free iPod-compatible MP3 songs offered by record artists and labels in an attempt to entice full-album purchases.

Amazon.com Free Music Downloads: A surprising mix of music from mainstream and independent artists, available for free in iPod-compatible MP3 format. Also offers musicians the ability to upload and share their songs.

eMusic.com: Provides a paid MP3 download service with a free two-week trial period. Focuses primarily on independent artists and offers a selection of 20,000 full albums to choose from.

Epitonic.com: Offers highly professional, artist-focused presentation of free digital music downloads in MP3 format, with biographical details and short previews for songs across a narrow collection of genres.

Freekidsmusic.com: Along with its sister site Freechildrensmusic.com, provides a large variety of free MP3 format songs for young listeners.

Garageband.com: Not to be confused with Apple’s music creation application of the same name, Garageband.com collects and provides popularity charts of independent music, featuring over 125,000 bands.

IUMA.com: The Internet Underground Music Archive provides genre-organized downloads of iPod-compatible MP3-format music.

MFiles.co.uk: A simple site from an aesthetic standpoint, provides free downloads of well-known classical music in MP3 format.

MP34U.com: A clean, professionally designed interface to individual free songs sorted by genre, selected by site “sources” who pick and post only music they like.

MP3blogs.org: A single site that provides an hourly aggregation of the free and legal MP3 downloading blogs of over 100 different bloggers, impressively spanning genres and tastes from the obscure to the mainstream.

Music.download.com: The music-dedicated expansion of popular software download site Download.com offers free full-length MP3 songs across all major genres, even including Children’s, Spoken Word, Comedy, Folk and Religious tracks. Most tracks are indie.

PureVolume offers over 100,000 free songs for download, and captured many of the best users of what used to be MP3.com (before it was scrapped, sold, and completely changed).

Vitaminic: Mixing downloads in iPod-compatible MP3 format with those in iPod-incompatible Realmedia format, Vitaminic spans a wide range of genres – even including ones such as classical, jazz, and world music.

Of course, if you can’t find the song you’re looking for on one of these free sites, you can always visit Apple’s iTunes Music Store and make a purchase there. Though iTunes isn’t as cheap as some of the questionable international sites listed in the prior section, and it both limits bitrate quality and places heavier restrictions on use of its downloaded music, it is an entirely safe and legal way to get access to over one million songs.

Downloading Free Podcasts: Radio for your iPod

In addition to free music for your iPod, you can also download “Podcasts,” short radio-style programs produced by individuals and companies around the world. iLounge’s Podcast – which was created using an iPod photo and Griffin’s iTalk voice recorder accessory – can be downloaded here, and several directories of Podcasts have popped up elsewhere on the Internet.

iPodder.org is the web site of former MTV vee-jay and Podcasting spearheader Adam Curry, with a directory that’s slowly being updated to accommodate numerous additions. Podcaster.net is another and more modern-looking directory, with iPodderX.com offering both a directory and a Podcast downloading tool. On a related note, the fine folks at Engadget produce a great Podcast and also provide tutorials on creating your own.

Finding More Free and Legal Music Online

If you haven’t visited iLounge’s Free Music section yet, now’s the time. We’ve found a collection of great sites that tell you where to get the best new free and legal music online.

Besides the existing iLounge Discussion Forums, which host over 15,000 posts on music (and 3,000 on music formats), we have just added the new Free Music forum, where you can discuss legal places to find free music online.

Please verify that any links you submit qualify as “free, legal music downloads.” iLounge does not take any responsibility for verifying the legality of any of the sites or services listed, and encourages all users to be cautious before downloading and sharing any other person’s music online.