But neither Amazon nor Google went for that proposition, taking the bold step to wait and see what would happen in a test case of EMI (and 14 music publishers) versus MP3tunes.com. MP3tunes is the brainchild of Michael Robertson, the creator of the original thorn in the side of the music business - MP3.com, one of the companies that started the digital revolution in the first place. The site beat Amazon and Google into the music locker business, allowing the user to store all of their songs in their own virtual locker in the cloud so he/she could stream the music to any of their digital music devices at any time and not have to have all of their songs stored on that device.
In a lawsuit that has major industry ramifications, EMI wanted to get paid if any of their songs were loaded onto MP3tunes. What's more, they asked that MP3tunes effectively police their users to determine if any of the songs were stolen, then make them take them down.
In a ruling yesterday (August 23, 2011), Manhattan district judge William Pauley ruled that MP3tunes (and as a result, any other music locker) is not responsible for what their users upload, clearing the way for people to mix songs they have bought with those that have been offered for free on the internet without worry of having to pay a license fee.
The one stipulation in the ruling is that if a copyright holder finds that a user has uploaded pirated content, the locker company must take down those songs if they're notified.
OK, let's look at the winners and losers here.
MP3tunes, Amazon, Google Music, any digital music locker - They don't have to pay a license fee to the labels, and they don't have to police their customers.
The user - They can store their music in the cloud without having to worry about being asked to pay a fee for music they can't prove they own.
Music Publishers/Record Labels - They lost a potential major income stream.
Songwriters - Likewise.
Artists - They were bound to make something from that income stream, although probably a pittance of the total amount.
We all seem to leap for joy when the middle man takes a beating, but usually that also means that the creators are taking one too. Virtual music lockers threaten to become the next big thing in music and we'll see if that actually comes to pass by the end of the year or so, but that won't mean much for the real people that need the help - the ones that make the music.
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