Apple (s aapl) is very close to locking up a deal with every major music label in advance of launching its own cloud music service, according to Bloomberg. The Mac-maker has reportedly signed on Sony Music (s sne), leaving just Universal Music Group as the last of the four major labels which hasn’t arrived at an agreement yet.
Cnet (s cbs) reported previously that EMI Music and Warner Music Group (s wmg) are now on board with Apple’s plan for cloud music, with EMI having signed up only very recently. Universal Music Group, the lone holdout, is said to be close to arriving at a deal. That Apple has managed to find terms agreeable to the other three major labels is a promising sign regarding its chances with Universal Music Group.
Google (s goog) and Amazon (s amzn) have both already launched cloud music offerings without the support of record labels, after negotiations between labels and the two companies reportedly failed to reach an acceptable agreement prior to launch.
It’s unclear yet what exactly Apple will gain by securing licensing deals with labels prior to launch, but at the very least, they probably won’t have to tiptoe so carefully around potential copyright grey areas. Amazon and Google’s services can’t tap into music stored in a general library, for instance. Apple’s may offer the ability to stream music directly from its entire iTunes library without having to upload or copy first, which could avoid cloud storage space limitations. There’s also speculation Apple could employ the “scan and match” technology once used by Lala, the streaming music company it acquired in 2009. Scan and match would allow Apple to scan a user’s hard drive and provide them access to music found there instantly on its own servers, instead of requiring users to upload, which is a time-consuming process.
Implementing scan and match while also negotiating record company copyright concerns (i.e., verifying music stored on a drive is legally purchased) would be technically very difficult, however, so it might not necessarily be something Apple has in the works. A recently-discovered Apple patent does suggest one feature of the service could be partial local storage, which would enable instant playback without any buffering.
Whatever Apple is planning, expect it to arrive very soon, given the pace at which these deals seem to be falling in place. The likely reason we’re seeing a flurry of these reports now is that Apple wants to take the covers off of its cloud music service at the 2011 Worldwide Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, which begins June 6. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait long to see what’s in store.