Michael Robertson: Thoughts on Lala.com

Since Lala’s newly-relaunched music service includes a “music locker” feature that is virtually identical to one that Michael Robertson pioneered with MyMP3 back in 2000 — only to ultimately be sued into oblivion by the RIAA — I emailed him to get his thoughts on what the company is doing, and how things have (or haven’t) changed since he first launched MP3.com. Here’s what he said in response:

“I really admire what Lala is trying to do. Their user interface is nice and concept as you pointed out is one I championed in 2000. The world has changed dramatically since I did my.mp3 in 2000, but sadly the labels have not. My belief back then was that users should have rights to move their own music around. Music lovers want the music everywhere on any device. This means you must support an open API instead of locking users to a single service. This means you must support downloads not just streaming.

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Suzanne Vega, mother of the mp3

As a huge fan of Suzanne Vega and her classic 1980’s song, Tom’s Diner, I was surprised to find out that there was a lot that I didn’t know about the song — like the fact that the inventor of the mp3 standard (Karl-Heinz Brandenberg) used the song to help tune the compression standard, and even invited Suzanne to Germany to the Fraunhofer Institute for a press conference about it, or that the diner in the song is the same one you see in the closing credits of Seinfeld and is actually called Tom’s Restaurant.

All that and more is the subject of a blog post by the singer as part of an ongoing series on songwriting at the New York Times. Among other things, I also didn’t know that she had given her permission to the remix artists known as DNA, who came out with the mashup of a Soul II Soul beat and her vocals and had a top 10 hit with it, or that she put together an album of 11 remixed versions of the song herself. For all of that and more, told in inimitable Suzanne Vega fashion, read the whole blog post.

When all else fails, declare victory

Remember that lawsuit the RIAA launched against the Russian file-sharing site AllofMp3 awhile back? And remember how the site shut down, and then started up again under another name (Mp3Sparks) with the same look and all the same millions of music files? And remember how the Russian courts found the company not guilty of all charges (at least according to Russian copyright law)? Well, Torrentfreak says the RIAA has responded to all of that — by declaring victory.

Once more into the breach, Michael Robertson

Michael Robertson has been a thorn in the side of the music business longer than just about anybody, including Steve Jobs and Shawn “Napster” Fanning. He created the original MP3.com (history here), which, like Napster, was shut down by a record industry lawsuit, and more recently created Mp3tunes.com — which allows you to upload music and listen to it through the browser.

michael.jpgNow he’s taking another crack at the industry with the launch of something called AnywhereCD. But before the new venture was even a day old, Michael’s plans, which he writes about on his blog, had hit a major snag. The service is designed to allow music fans to buy a CD and instantly get access to mp3 files of the same songs — but without necessarily taking physical delivery of the CD. This apparently got at least one label upset: Warner Music came out within hours of Michael’s announcement and ordered him to remove any WMG files from the service — even though all the appropriate royalties would be paid as though someone had actually bought the CD. Warner said in a statement that AnywhereCD was selling its music in a manner that “flagrantly” violated their agreement.

I’m continually struck by the bizarre contortions the industry forces people to jump through. The original MP3.com had a service called My.MP3.com, which allowed you to listen to music through the browser after verifying that you owned the original CD — which I thought was brilliant. It was shut down too (MP3tunes.com requires you to upload all the music before you can listen to it). Warner’s response seems particularly out of step given that some labels like EMI are offering straightforward non-DRM files.

Is the record industry doomed to just never get it?

Yahoo! — more music without DRM

The folks at Disney seem to be jumping all over the digital media bandwagon lately, what with the deal to sell movies through Apple’s new movie-download service (the only studio to sign up with Apple so far), and now a deal with Yahoo to sell an entire album from a Disney artist — Jesse McCartney — in pure, unrestricted, uncrapped-up with DRM format. Maybe somebody slipped something into their coffee over there at The House That Mickey Built.

I’m sure Steve Jobs, who just joined Disney’s board after they acquired Pixar, would rather they stuck with iTunes and only iTunes, but it’s nice to see record companies trying something different. A representative from Disney-owned Hollywood Records told Variety magazine:

We’re trying to be realistic. Jesse’s single is already online and we haven’t put it out. Piracy happens regardless of what we do. So we’re going to see how Jesse’s album goes (as an MP3) and then decide on others going forward.

It will be interesting to see how sales of the album do, both of Yahoo’s DRM-free version and the DRM-rich iTunes version — not to mention the old-fashioned shiny metal disc version. A few years ago, the band Wilco streamed its entire Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album for free on its Web site, and wound up having a best-selling album on their hands.