Lawyers and Players - MP3 in the Spotlight|
[ No. 41 - March 2000 ]
Our old pal Michael Robertson at MP3.com is being sued by, at
last count, "at least" ten major record labels for their
My.MP3.com service. This service is billed by MP3.com 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: "...it is not legal to compile
a vast database of our member's sound recordings with no
permission and no license." MP3.com 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 MP3.com 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, MP3.com 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 MP3.com has violated
copyright law. Interestingly, MP3.com is not a member of this
organization (which includes 38 new media music companies
including Emusic.com, Myplay, Liquid Audio and CDNow).
Lon Sobel, editor of Entertainment Law Reporter adds a relevent
observation: "The copy was made by MP3.com, 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 MP3.com, 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 MP3.com to be making those
decisions alone. If MP3.com and the RIAA can't even agree to
negotiate then resolution seems unlikely. Maybe it's time
MP3.com 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 <www.bmi.com>
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
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
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)
Plays: Files, Streams, CD
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.
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
Plays: Files, Streams
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
Player: FreeAmp v2.0
OS: Linux and Win95, 98 and NT(currently).
Macintosh, Solaris and BeOS ports (in progress).
Plays: Files, Streams
Summary: Open-source is good! We eagerly await their Mac port.
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.
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
<www.fezguys.com/features/2000-02/gigmag/>, we're using Xing's
<www.xingtech.com/mp3/audiocatalyst/> to rip to
a WAV file and again using AudioCatalyst encoding the WAV file
to MP3. The Real Networks RealEncoder
<www.real.com> 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.