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The Debate Over Digital Lockers

Kim Hart

It's tough to last long in the music industry these days without being involved in some type of law suit, it seems.

The lawyers got pretty riled up when they discussed (or argued bitterly) about how best to tweak the copyright laws. (At one point, a panel moderator actually threatened to turn off the microphones to halt the squawking).

Michael Robertson, CEO of MP3Tunes, admits he's quite familiar with the ugly side of the digital music industry. After starting mp3.com, Robertson was sued by several recording labels for copyright infringement. He later sold the business to Universal Music Group for nearly $400 million, after the major record label decided not to settle with mp3.com.

Now, his new business is at the wrong end of a lawsuit. EMI Group sued Robertson in November for copyright infringement. The recording company claimed MP3tunes' two Web sites, mp3tunes.com and sideload.com, allow users to listen to music on their computers, get copies of songs online, transfer music to their computers and portable devices and share it with others--all without legal rights to distribute the music.

The suit is still pending, but if he loses the case, Robertson said his digital locker service, which is an integral part of allowing music files to be transfered between devices, will likely disappear. Digital lockers have been developed by a number of online music firms to allow users to upload their libraries to the Internet and then access them from any computer or device. There is some debate about whether this violates copyright laws, partly because people can give others access to the files.

Robertson said the digital lockers on his site are password protected. He also said the company shuts the lockers off if too many people try to access the locker.

A few industry insiders at the forum even questioned whether consumers even use the digital locker services. How about you? Do you find them useful or useless?

By Kim Hart  |  February 28, 2008; 12:47 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Kim,

Thanks for the coverage. As I mentioned in my talk, music lockers are very new. They are just now becoming really practical as net radio devices like Logitech's brilliant Duet lets you access your music without a PC in any room of your house.

Our upcoming auto-sync feature which I demoed automatically puts your music onto portable devices so you always have your music even on the go. No more plugging in USB cables!

Even before we launch this feature we have more than 100,000 locker owners and are storing more than 400 millions songs.

I would challenge your assessment "There is some debate about whether this [music locker] violates copyright laws, partly because people can give others access to the files." That's inaccurate.

Every online storage company, web hoster, file hoster, P2P and even email service can allow people to access others files. I can open a Yahoo or gmail account, load it up with song files and give the password to 100 people. Or I could use AOL's, Google's, Microsoft, etc hosting service to put files up for all to copy. Nearly ALL those services allow free access (no password required).

EMI is suing MP3tunes (and me personally in an attempt to intimidate me) because they believe that any company who does anything with music files is an infringer - even if a user is simply accessing their own music collection for their own personal needs such as the MP3tunes case. This stance should disgust and outrage anyone who cares about consumers and thinks they have the right to own their music, movies, ebooks, etc.

If MP3tunes is guilty of copyright infringement so is Google, AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo and nearly every other major net company because they all have services which store files which others can access. And for the record MP3tunes has more security restrictions than ANY other online storage service on the net.

-- MR

Michael Robertson
CEO, MP3tunes

Posted by: Michael Robertson | February 29, 2008 1:36 AM

The best music on the internet is from Balm! It's free too, check it out! Just click my name:

Posted by: steveballmer | March 2, 2008 3:17 PM

I use sideload.com and MP3Tunes.com on a regular basis. SideLoad.com is nothing more than a search engine. You can get the same results using Google. SideLoad.com just gives you an easy to access interface. As for storing my content on the internet, if I am able to make an archive copy of my music as a digital format I should be able to store that archive copy wherever I please. There are many virtual hard drive services out there, why is the RIAA not suing them as well? The answer to that questions is because they are not necessarily associated with music, but they are essentially the same service. I could build both sideload.com and MP3Tunes.com on my home machine using existing services on the internet, without much real programming required. Why do I use these two services? Because like all people, I am lazy and since it's already been done for me, why reinvent the wheel unless there is something I can add to it and MR is doing a fine job of updating the service for me.

Posted by: George | March 14, 2008 3:45 PM

I agree with Michael Robertson statements. Moreover, this king of prosecution by the big music companies is totally ridiculous. Who didn't share their vinyl records, cassettes, or cd when going to someone party, etc? Are they going to create a patrol unit to raide teenagers or anyone house for doing that? Absurd! Thank you, Mr. Robertson, for standing strong for us, the ones that already have paid to the big music companies for their expensive products!
Pablo Palma

Posted by: Pablo Palma | April 22, 2008 2:19 PM

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