iTunes concessions a double-edged sword

Apple’s announcements at Macworld may have lacked some of the flair and sizzle that CEO Steve Jobs usually brought to his keynote, but there was one announcement that, arguably, will wind up changing the playing field considerably. That announcement is the news of DRM-free sales from all of the major music labels through iTunes, and the addition of variable pricing. As rumored during the run up to Macworld, the world’s largest online music store will soon start selling songs for 69 cents, 99 cents or $1.29 each. The only question now, as Peter Kafka notes in a post at MediaMemo, is whether anyone will care or not — and whether it will help to fix any of the music industry’s systemic problems.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)

RIAA switches to “three strikes” approach

The Recording Industry Association of America, which has spent the past five years suing tens of thousands of individual file-sharers for copyright infringement, has apparently decided to change tactics, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal (hopefully this one is a little more reliable than the recent story about Google’s views on net neutrality). The good news is that they are going to stop suing 13-year-olds and retired war veterans and single mothers for downloading music. The bad news is that their new plan involves cutting sneaky backroom deals with Internet service providers to take a so-called “three strikes” approach: They let the ISP know when they think you’ve been sharing copyrighted material, and the provider agrees to send you an email warning; the second time, you get a letter; do it again and your Internet access gets cut off.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)

AC/DC a blockbuster despite downloads

The legendary British Australian rock band AC/DC is one of the few holdouts when it comes to selling music through the iTunes record store, a stand the group has taken in part because it refuses to sell individual songs as singles — “We don’t make singles, we make albums,” says guitarist Angus Young — and Apple won’t let the band restrict its iTunes sales to just albums. That’s why its new album, Black Ice, is exclusively being sold through Wal-Mart stores, and it may also have something to do with the fact that the record has been topping the BitTorrent download charts as well.

According to TorrentFreak, just five days after the album was leaked on BitTorrent it had already been downloaded 400,000 times. Download-tracking firm Big Champagne said that in the first week it was available (the leak occurred on October 7, and the official release was on October 20) it was being downloaded about 100,000 times a day. If that rate continued — and there’s no reason to think that it hasn’t — then the album was downloaded more than a million times before it went on sale.

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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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Lala: The return of my.mp3.com

Sometimes — in fact, most of the time — it seems as though the music industry has changed very little since the early days of Napster and the invention of the mp3 file. Lawsuits still shut down Web-based music services and tie people up in court, record labels still primarily ignore the potential of the Internet, and so on. But at least one thing has changed: the idea of an online music locker where you can store songs seems to be something to promote, rather than something to sue into oblivion. It’s one of the main features of the newly-relaunched Lala service.

This feature, as Harry notes at Technologizer, happens to be exactly the same as a service that Michael Robertson used to offer way back when, known as MyMp3.com. Users could simply have the service scan a compact disc and then the songs would be unlocked online, so that they could be listened to anywhere there was Internet access. It was a great service, and like Harry I was pretty sad to see it get shut down after a lawsuit from the RIAA (Michael has since tried to create a similar service at mp3tunes.com, which is also being sued by EMI).

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