Music Deja Vu

From Jon Pareles’ NY Times article The Cloud That Ate Your Music, discussing the evolution of music playback devices:

Baby boomers who remember the transistor radio, that formerly miniature marvel that now looks and feels like a brick compared to current MP3 players, can experience again the sound of an inadequate speaker squeezing out a beloved song.

Growing up we had this transistor radio in my kitchen:

Amazon.com’s Cloud Drive

In the late 1990’s MyMP3.com offered a type of cloud music service.  The company bought tens of thousands of music CD’s, stored the tracks on its servers, and allowed subscribers to create a music locker from those CDs the subscriber owned.  One verified ownership by inserting a physical copy of the CD in a computer’s CD player for the MyMP3.com service to recognize.  Thus “ownership” meant physical possession of the CD, meaning one “owned” all CD’s that one’s friends were willing to loan for the verification process.  UMG Recordings and other record labels sued MyMP3.com out of existence in 2000 because the company had not obtained the copyright licenses necessary to operate the service.

Eleven years later–or two days ago, in other words–Amazon.com unveiled Cloud Player, a storage and music-streaming service.  Ars Technica describes how it works:

Amazon customers 5GB of online storage to use for whatever they please. If they buy an album from Amazon MP3, however, they get 20GB of storage for the year, and all Amazon MP3 purchases are automatically synced to the user’s Cloud Drive without counting against the quota. Users could then use the Cloud Player Android or Web app to stream the music to any compatible device or browser, even if the files themselves had not been synced there.

What licenses does Cloud Player require?  Here’s the Ars Technica headline:  Amazon on Cloud Player: we don’t need no stinkin’ licenses.*  Amazon.com has decided that (in Ars Technica’s words) “since users are uploading and playing back their own music, the original download licenses still apply and no new licenses are necessary.”  Cloud Drive users are uploading their own music or storing music purchased from Amazon.com, so the service does not feature the unauthorized copying of tracks that was MyMP3.com’s foundation. Sony Music–the only major label that responded to Ars Technica’s request for reactions to Cloud Drive–is keeping its “‘legal options open.'”

An 800-lb gorilla challenging the music industry’s interpretation of copyright law?  This will be interesting.

*Bonus Feature:  clip from Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the “no stinkin’ licenses/badges/[insert noun here]” source

Music Industry Panel Debate

Next Tuesday, March 3, from 7:00-9:00 PM in the School of Management auditorium I am moderating a panel discussion–titled “What Lies Ahead”–on the future of the music industry. Audience Q & A will follow the moderated discussion.   For more information see the event website or the poster below.  Register for the event by joining the Facebook group.

what-lies-ahead

None Of MP3.com

Russian music-sharing site AllofMP3.com gathered considerable attention in recent years, much of it accompanied by rose-tinted and dubious analysis of its legality. AllofMP3.com offered CD-quality music tracks for sale and download at low prices, e.g. $1.50 or less per album. AllofMP3.com claimed its service was protected by licenses from the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society. The scope of those licenses and whether they authorized AllofMP3.com to distribute licensed content everywhere in the world, were murky, (1) but the site’s supporters claimed (among other things) that because “the authority concerning intellectual property stems from individual countries” one in the U.S. who downloaded files from a Russian site was covered by Russian, not U.S., copyright laws. (2) This is certainly a novel interpretation of state sovereignty. The same argument would support the legality of downloading, say, child pornography in the U.S. from a country where it was legal to do so, because the authority concerning legality of child pornography also stems from individual countries.

In any event, AllofMP3.com has entered the ranks of ex-Internet music-download sites. Techcrunch reported (sourced from a document from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative posted on Digg) that Russia agreed to shut AllofMP3.com and other sites that “permit illegal distribution of music and other copyright works.” Under the heading Fighting Internet Piracy the document summarizes the U.S. – Russia agreement as follows:

  • The United States and Russia agreed on the objective of shutting down websites that permit illegal distribution of music and other copyright works. The agreement names the Russia-based website allofmp3.com as an example of such a website.
  • Russia will:
    • take enforcement actions against the operation of Russia-based websites; and
    • investigate and prosecute companies that illegally distribute copyright works on the Internet.
  • Russia will work to enact legislation by June 1, 2007, to stop collecting societies from acting without right holder consent,
  • Russia will also work to enact legislation implementing the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet treaties.

The document summarizes other Russian enforcement activities including those focused on optical disc piracy, pharmaceutical test data, criminal activities, and border enforcement
(1) Is allofmp3.com legal?, Tech Law Advisor, 28-Apr-04; (2) AllOFMP# is Legal – And Cheap to Boot, FADMINE
Russia Agrees To US Request To Shut Down AllofMP3.com
, Techcrunch 28-Nov-06