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Major label licenses for download platforms: The mountain is finally moving – but is it moving fast enough?

20 08 2008

The recent lunch hour session with Ted Cohen at Bandwidth 2008 in San Francisco triggered a strange Deja vu moment with last month’s Future content models conference in London.

An eclectic group of digital media entrepreneurs, marketers, and small label representatives gathered last week in the University Club to adjure the great potential of the Internet to enable new business models to distribute music online. After presenting and discussing potentially visionary concepts for a while, the entrepreneurs agreed that the main reason that so few of these models have been implemented was the inflexibility of the record labels to grant licenses under acceptable terms. The commonly used example is the blanket license subscription model of Playlouder in the UK, which has been around as a technology in development for 5 years without being able to offer a comprehensive service due to the lack of content. Without a deal with a major record label, it only survived due to the stamina of its founders Paul Hitchman and Paul Sanders.

But following a recent announcement to have signed deals with at least two major labels and a major ISP in the UK, the situation could be changing and at least some users in the UK will be able to enjoy unlimited access to shareable music for a monthly flat fee. How the service will really look like and what restrictions the deals with the labels impose on the freedom of the subscribers to use the music they have downloaded remains unclear for the moment. The good news is that the majors seem to have realized that stemming the dominant social practice without offering a realistic alternative is no sustainable option and that isolated deals with innovative download distribution platforms are appearing. But according to Ted Cohen, these deals are hardly profitable for the distributors at least as long as subscription fees are the only source of revenue.

Hence, the future of the blanket license model seems still precarious despite the wide support among entrepreneurs and marketers on both sides of the Atlantic.

by Wolf in San Francisco / London

DRM “Dead” for Streaming Music Too?

19 08 2008

EFF’s Fred von Lohman and Seth Schoen wrote a post a few days ago that landed with surprising silence in the blogsophere. Using a packet sniffer and a quick look into the “temp” file on a PC, the two discovered that iMeem and LaLa, two of the hottest new streaming music services, are not using DRM on their files. Although the files appear to users as streams, they are actual fully downloaded, open files. They write:

“Yet another nail has been driven into DRM’s coffin, this time for streaming audio (PCPro has a nice overview of the state of DRM for digital music).

Two of the leading on-demand streaming music sites, iMeem and LaLa, are not using DRM on their audio streams, instead sending the music as MP3s dusted with a dash of obfuscation. This is significant because both sites have been licensed by all the major record labels — the very same record labels that were just last year pushing Congress to require DRM on all noninteractive webcasts. So it looks like the RIAA companies have changed their minds, dropping DRM requirements for the on-demand streaming music services.”

It’s unclear whether this “obfuscation” that Von Lohman describes tricks the majority of users who think they couldn’t, for example, move their iMeem files to an iPod. But either way, it does not rise to the level of a “technical protection measure” under the DMCA. So, to all of the future music services developing innovative and new music download models (I hope). You may or may not have deals with the labels (yet), but don’t worry too much about being forced to lock up files or build systems around expected TPMs. DRM is on its way out the door, not just for retail downloads in iTunes, but everywhere.

Media on main street

4 08 2008

Devon Copley in Brooklyn

My wife and I took a little break from the steamy city this weekend and headed out to Cape Cod. This morning found the two of us sipping coffee and gazing out at the ships in the bay at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Onset, MA. I had thought I’d be leaving the issues of internet content distribution behind for a couple of days, but I was wrong…

An older man, maybe 60, was at the counter. He had removed his white iEarbuds to order his breakfast from the teen girl at the till, and I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. They were talking about a song, trying to figure out who played it. “Chuck Berry, I think,” the man said.

“Chuck Berry?” the girl asked.

“Yeah, I wish I had that song.”

“You should go on Limewire and get it,” she suggested. “That’s what me and all my friends do.”

The man hadn’t heard of it. “Limewire?”

“Yeah. Where do you get your music?”

“iTunes,” he said, waving his iPod. “It’s great.”

The girl laughed. “But Limewire is free!”

“Free?” the man asked. “So they’re not paying the musicians anything, right?”

I didn’t manage to hear how the conversation ended…

A little late to the party

24 07 2008

Since all the kids are so excited about the google these days, I thought maybe I should change with the times. Is this thing on?