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Summary:

How does the founder of cloud-music service Mp3tunes feel about Amazon joining the party? “Bring it on,” he says. Michael Robertson also believes Amazon’s entry could have legal consequences, since it is playing fast and loose with the terms of its licenses from the record labels.

800px-Michael_Robertson%2C_2006

One of Michael Robertson’s friends sent him a link on Tuesday to an article about Amazon launching its Cloud Player music service, with a note saying: “Finally, people can store their music in the cloud!” The friend knew this would get a laugh out of the Mp3tunes.com founder, since he has been trying to build a similar cloud-based music service for more than a decade. So how does he feel about Amazon joining the party? “Bring it on,” he says. Robertson also believes Amazon’s approach could have interesting legal consequences, since it appears to be playing fast and loose with the terms of its licenses from the major record labels.

Robertson said he looks at Amazon’s entry into the cloud-based music market in two ways. As a competitor, he said, “We kick their butt in all kinds of ways — we work on the iPhone, we work on Windows 7, we have an open API. If you match us feature-for-feature, we are clearly superior.” He called the Amazon offering “a solid version one,” but said it is missing many of the added bells and whistles that Mp3tunes offers, including the ability to transcode music on the fly when streaming to a mobile device.

Competition aside, the Mp3tunes founder also says he is glad that Amazon has launched its service, and that Google is soon expected to do the same. He’s hoping that these new services will bring more attention to the marketplace, where his company and several other small players such as mSpot have been toiling away trying to get noticed for years.

They did a lot of things right with this service. And it will bring more attention to the landscape and that will be good for everyone.

So far, the only ones who have really paid much attention to Robertson are the major record labels, who have repeatedly sued him for trying to put “their” music in the cloud. His first effort was MyMp3. That service was part of mp3.com, the company he launched in 1997, long before Apple introduced the iPod and came to dominate the field of digital music. Like Amazon’s new service, MyMp3 also allowed users to upload music to their digital lockers and listen to it whenever they wanted.

Mp3.com was sued by all the major record labels, who argued that the service amounted to widespread copying of their content, and Robertson sold the company in 2001. Eventually — after launching several other services, including a voice-over-IP company called SIPphone and a Linux-based Windows competitor called Linspire (originally known as Lindows) — he started Mp3tunes. Once again he tried to offer cloud-based music storage lockers, complete with what he called “side-loading,” which allowed users to move music they bought elsewhere online into their lockers.

Not surprisingly, Robertson was sued again, by the record label EMI. The case is currently before the courts, and the Mp3tunes founder says that what Amazon is doing has a direct bearing on his lawsuit, since many of the services the giant online retailer is offering — including moving purchases directly into users’ storage accounts — aren’t permitted by the licenses Amazon has with the major record labels (the company has said that it doesn’t think it needs new licenses). Says Robertson:

It’s a fascinating throwdown with the record labels. Everyone knows that Apple and Google are formulating their own plans in this area, and here’s Amazon effectively saying we don’t care about those licenses.

As for being the pioneer who has been trying to build a business for a decade, only to see giants like Amazon and Apple come along and try to take it away, Robertson is surprisingly sanguine. “That’s the free market,” he says with a laugh. “The same thing that allows me to do it allows anyone to come along and copy me and compete with me. It’s not enough to have the idea, you have to have the execution and the timing — and being early is almost the same as being wrong, unfortunately.”

The Mp3tunes founder says his service has about 750,000 users but admits, “That’s not really enough to build a business on.” Robertson is hoping that while the big players are expanding the market, he can carve out enough of a user base to keep his decade-long fight alive. And if not? “Then I lose,” he says. “That’s part of life.”

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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  1. I don’t know the current status of the case, but EMI are also suing Robertson personally for mp3tunes, totally disgusting.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091019/1848596602.shtml

    It’s great that Terrafirma lost control of EMI. Let’s hope they lose, they definitely deserve to.

  2. Credit Robertson with humility and proper perspective. He had the wrong method and knows it now … as does Amazon. Neither thwart piracy nor monetize on behalf of all parties. The right method is to form a participatory Exchange. Add verification with immobilization and .. voila.
    See here for more info:
    http://digitalcontentexchange.blogspot.com/2011/03/amazon-challenge-music-industry-at.html
    (The daily diary of the Digital Content Exchange (pat pendg. 10591416)).

    1. The Exchange idea isn’t interesting if you’re not a member of Homeland Security and you don’t have a patent pending.

      How about let people store their files wherever they want to, and exempt Amazon and others (under Digital Millenium something-or-other) from primary liability for what their users store with them?

      1. That you think it has anything to do with Homeland Security proves u dont understand a single word of it. and thanks for your vote of confidence on the patent system. I am guessing you don’t have much regard for the copyright system either.

    2. The exchange idea isn’t interesting because no one is willing to lock up their music in some cloud DRM system.

      DRM can work, because easy can compete with free, as can be seen in app stores and services like Steam. The exchange idea seems to rely on every single player/service/device to verify user and content credentials every time media is accessed. Do you honestly envisage the tech incumbents allowing that? Amazon clearly don’t care.

      If you offer the user the choice between verification/immobilization and piracy, they’ll choose piracy every time. That piracy door is not one that you’ll be able to close.

      1. Thanks kwyjibo for your thoughtful and good-faith response.

        No wonder you and others think that counterfeiting is uncontrollable and you might as well give up. The way the industry has gone about trying to minimize counterfeiting has been wrong-headed. This is because every application or service has been using a method which either ignores counterfeits or sometimes even encourages its use, Amazon Cloud Player being this biggest offender so far, that I can see. (BTW it has nothing to do with so-called “piracy”, it is *counterfeit*. It has nothing to do with guys with eye patches and swords or anything in that image.) The problem is simply that when you introduce counterfeits into the stream of commerce, and you don’t control them, in fact you ignore them, you have a huge problem and you always will have that problem until you address it.

        Now, to the solution. User registration and verification is no more difficult than entering your user ID and password. You do that for YouTube everyday. Is that DRM? As soon as you log into YouTube, YouTube knows who you are, what videos you’ve uploaded, gives you access to them to change them, what comments you’ve made, etc. Why is this a problem? The DCE works exactly the same way. No more or no less intrusive.

        DRM is something entirely different. DRM refers to impregnating a “lock and key” on the disc itself or in the download stream. Does any of this strike you as DRM?

        >>Do you honestly envisage the tech incumbents allowing that? Amazon clearly don’t care.

        You think the “tech incumbents” won’t do that? How can you possibly know that? Would you invest in say, Amazon, if they announced they were going to persist in being a rogue player and not cooperate with the system that all labels, artists, publishers, used record stores, eBay, Redbox, Netflix, movie studios, book publishers, public libraries, had agreed to use in order to solve the monetization problem? How much future is there in that? Did you invest in Limewire?

        If Amazon “doesn’t care” it is because they have not been made to care. They have not been made to care because all the players on all sides are greedy. The record labels want advances to get themselves through the next quarter, punters want their free music to be forward compatible with every new service that comes down the pipe. Nasrrow, short-term, self-interested thinking. No one wants to solve the problem.

        But make no mistake, we are at a crossroads. To take no action on Amazon and to allow more cloud services without verification will remove the value of the copyright catalog forever. And you can tell the spouses of everyone on this list the good news that now that they are freed from trying to sell music they can start making money off of live performances and t-shirt sales:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deaths_in_rock_and_roll

    3. Of course this article and your arguments overlook one EXTREMELY important point – what if I utilize a cloud service as my ONLY source of digital content? Then the counterfeit argument is completely baseless because my ONLY copy of the file is the one in the cloud.

      Actually, the counterfeit argument is already completely baseless, thanks to the music industry itself. Why? Because I have two LEGAL copies of every song I’ve purchased. One on my PC, and one synced to my mobile device, through LEGALLY PURCHASED AND MUSIC INDUSTRY APPROVED SOFTWARE AND DEVICES, iTunes and iPod in this case.

      Also, since you felt the need to be funny with your definition of piracy, copies of music files are not counterfeit since they are not an imitation or false representation of the original, THEY ARE THE ORIGINAL.

  3. This entire discussion is bull feathers since my music can be where I want it to be. So-called record companies need to get over the fact that bought music belongs to the buyer, not to them. I don’t particularly like this idea because of the invasive nature of having everyone else in the same cloud and able to get into whatever I may have there.

  4. Hum, there are 2 billion people on the web, you don’t think there is enough users to use more than just 1 or 2 cloud services? Amazon, Google, Apple joining the party is excellent news for MP3tunes, that means consumers will get to learn about the idea, and the more people learn about it, the more demand, so Mp3tunes is likely to double, triple or quadruple their number of subscribers.

  5. I am incredibly impressed with Michael Robertson. He is persistent: he’s been offering cloud music before there was a cloud. He has perspective: if Amazon wins, because it was only a decade or so late to the party (rather than even later, as in the case of Apple and Google), then so be it.

    Andrew, using Amazon Cloud Player right now. If you’re curious: Mountain Goats; All Eternals Deck, which is $5 on Amazon right now, and the purchase gets extra Cloud Drive space.

    Yes, I think that owning a store as well as a cloud player is a strong combination:
    http://changingway.org/2011/03/29/amazon-cloud-drive-and-player/

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