The FezGuys
Lawyers and Players - MP3 in the Spotlight
[ No. 41 - March 2000 ]

Our old pal Michael Robertson at is being sued by, at last count, "at least" ten major record labels for their service. This service is billed by as a "virtual CD player that CD owners can use to listen to their own CDs from any net-connected computer." The idea is that you insert a CD into your computer and the CD info (not the music) is uploaded to their servers. If it's in their database of 45,000 releases you then can stream (not download) MP3 files of the album.

The heart of the lawsuit is the issue of who has control over your songs and how they are distributed. The RIAA (often spokesperson for the big record labels) Presbo Hillary Rosen clearly explains their stance: " is not legal to compile a vast database of our member's sound recordings with no permission and no license." claims they are only storing a copy of a CD (already purchased by a consumer) on their servers for that consumer to listen to anywhere.

The Fezguys always prefer to see differences resolved out of court, but in this case neither or the music industry seem to able to do so. Both have now published open letters to each other pointing fingers in efforts to sway public opinion. This time, however, doesn't appear to have the same support it enjoyed in previous encounters with the established music industry. In particular, the Digital Media Association (DiMA), designed for Internet-based companies to interface with the traditional gang, generally agrees that has violated copyright law. Interestingly, is not a member of this organization (which includes 38 new media music companies including, Myplay, Liquid Audio and CDNow).

Lon Sobel, editor of Entertainment Law Reporter adds a relevent observation: "The copy was made by, not by the consumer, I couldn't imagine how they thought that was legal."

Certainly the purchaser of an album has certain rights for reproduction of that album for private use, but it's becoming apparent Mr. Robertson is going beyond even basic civility. If the music business is Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, Michael Robertson is Veruca Salt whining for an Oompa-Loompa.

Reading between the lines it's clear the slow-moving RIAA and its members are, as usual, merely reacting to technology advancements instead of sourcing them. Another prime example is the still-percolating SDMI standard for portable digital music players (it was supposed to be finished by the Christmas 1999 shopping season). As for, it appears they are moving further towards being a self-described "Music Service Provider," ultimately acting like an ISP, selling you global access to music you've already paid for. On the upside some people may find it a worthwhile service to be able to listen to their music collection remotely. On the downside it's not clear how artists will be fairly compensated out of these revenues. We're not sure we trust to be making those decisions alone. If and the RIAA can't even agree to negotiate then resolution seems unlikely. Maybe it's time joined DiMA.

Also jumping with jolly jurisprudence is the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM). They're going after Sony in court, accusing the major label of unfair trade practices by "forcing" NARM-member retailers to sell CDs that contain hyperlinks directing consumers to other retail web sites, as well as "showing favoritism" to partly owned record club Columbia House and online retailer CDnow. If you find yourself cursed/blessed with the attention and resources of a label, do everything in your power to hold onto your Internet rights. You're going to need them. If you're a smaller artist, one can't help but wonder if NARM member retailers will refuse to sell your CD because you included a URL to your own web site.

Maybe the horrid noises being made by all the litigants will cancel each other out like identical audio signals played out of phase with each other, leaving only the gentle sussuration of the musicians collective heartbeat. Well, as Deborah Harry sang: "dreaming is free..."

The Old Guard Groks (sort of) New Media

Starting to get the picture is BMI's DLC (digital licensing center) which announced a digital rights system aimed at making it easier for small Internet sites to gain access to BMI's huge repertoire of songs. The DLC is purported to be an "end-to-end click-through" system allowing users to complete copyright licensing agreements with BMI 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Ideally this should make it easier for webcasting and online radio companies to use BMI administrated works. It's a step in the right direction, at least. Typically consistent with big-business followthrough: the damn thing's been announced but (as of this writing) the service is not available on their web site <> and there is no date listed for when it will be.

Now, how about an automated section for artists to become members of BMI? Under "I Am A Songwriter/Composer" there are forms for: Address Change, Direct Deposit Authorization, Song Registration, and Document Reproduction Request, as well as useful links to US Copyright forms. Under "I Am A Publisher" there are FAQs on how to join, but no online forms. All forms are in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format, so you'll want to make sure you've got the free Reader <> installed on your computer to open them.

This just in: Green Witch Radio <> (MP3 Internet Radio featuring indie bands) has been acquired by powerhouse CMGI (owners of huge pieces of search engine Altavista and ISP NaviSite). Green Witch will be merged into CMGI's iCAST company, an online entertainment hub that champions self-publishing as well as offering user-generated and syndicated audio and video content and live and archived events. Hopefully this will lead to more resources for the development of open MP3 streaming server Icecast <>. Green Witch has long supported Icecast, an open-source and compatible method to Shoutcast (anyone with a server can stream their own radio stations).

New MP3 Players

The beginning of 2000 may become known as when Macintosh MP3 players hit the bigtime. After years of limited MP3 player availability, suddenly (just like the iMac) they're everywhere.

Player: Audion v1.2
Price: $17.95 (or $39.90 with N2MP3 encoder)
OS: Mac
Plays: Files, Streams, CD
URL: <>
Summary: Solid and useful product.
Description: Billed as "a top-notch CD player, an incredibly flexible MP3 player, and a smooth network-audio player all in one," and somewhat similar to Soundjam (especially when purchased with the N2MP3 encoder) the Audion offers the usual combination of different faceplates, equalizer and playlists. Unique features are a three-button control to play MP3 files, a CD, or a network stream (such as Shoutcast or Icecast) as well as CDDB (CD Database) caching. After the free 15-day demo Audion is still useable though sessions are limited to 30 minutes. Upon install Audion asks whether you'd like to make it your "Internet Helper App." It's good of them to allow us to choose.

Player: GrayAMP
Price: Free
OS: Mac
Plays: Files
URL: <>
Summary: Great if you only want to hear music.
Description: This very basic MP3 player runs on all (even older) Macs. GrayAMP doesn't take up excess CPU cycles with pointless add-ons like visualization plug-ins. To quote the blurb: "GrayAMP is an MP3 player, plain and simple. It's small but includes all the major features (such as full playlist support). The interface is Finder-like and MacOS 8 friendly. In the spirit of MP3s, GrayAMP is free."

Player: Amp Radio v1.5
Price: $10
OS: Mac
Plays: Files, Streams
URL: <>
Summary: Not too fancy, good backup choice for streaming.
Description: Amp Radio offers a "station" tracker. The tracker is supposed to be a "true hierarchical playlist manager with drag-and-drop capabilities." This player can record streams to disk. Like the Audion, upon install Amp Radio offers you the choice of of being your default "Internet Helper App."

Player: FreeAmp v2.0
Price: Free
OS: Linux and Win95, 98 and NT(currently). Macintosh, Solaris and BeOS ports (in progress).
Plays: Files, Streams
URL: <>
Summary: Open-source is good! We eagerly await their Mac port.
Description: FreeAmp plays MPEG 1, MPEG 2, and MPEG 2.5s along with MP3 files. It allows you to save ShoutCast and IceCast streams to disk as well as being a music browser and playlist editor.

Letters To The FezGuys

FezGuys - I'm a little confused on a few points: 1) If you put your music on a site are you expected to provide MP3 and streaming audio files? 2) Do you need to have two separate applications to create MP3 and streaming audio files? 3) You say if you plan to make streaming audio files, you need to rip as a WAV file...I was confused as to whether you create the MP3 file from the WAV file or whether that's done totally separately. Will you wind up with streaming files (WAV) and MP3 files on your computer? - Guy

Dear Guy - Different upload sites request you send your music in different ways. The most common these days is the MP3 format, though some may also accept RealAudio. Others may actually request you send them your CD so they can encode it themselves. Secondly, the average user is going to use two different encoding applications to create RealAudio and MP3 files. If you have some money to spare, you can purchase a software package such as Terran's Media Cleaner Pro which easily produces both MP3 and RealAudio as well as other file formats, like QuickTime. Finally, in the method outlined at <>, we're using Xing's AudioCatalyst <> to rip to a WAV file and again using AudioCatalyst encoding the WAV file to MP3. The Real Networks RealEncoder <> is used to encode to RealAudio. If you were only creating an MP3 file, you would rip directly to MP3 with AudioCatalyst, bypassing the WAV file process. Good luck! - The FezGuys

The FezGuys: making things rounder and redder.



About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

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