Muxtape: Knifed in an alley by the RIAA

Justin Ouellette, a former staffer at Vimeo, had a real hit on his hands with Muxtape, until the record labels got wind of it and shut it down. Now, Ouellette is taking another stab at it with a service aimed at independent artists. There were plenty of people (yes, we’re looking at you, Valleywag) who scoffed at Ouellette’s attempt to create an interesting music-sharing app, saying he should have known that it would step on the toes of the music industry. But then, name a music service that is actually enjoyable to use and doesn’t handcuff its customers six ways from Sunday that hasn’t stepped on the toes of the record industry (other than iTunes).

Oullette has a long post at the Muxtape site about what happened to him as he tried to arrange licensing deals with the four major music labels. From the sounds of it, pounding nails into his eyeballs would have been a lot more fun — and probably would have accomplished as much. Discussions with the labels started out with “We are hours from shutting you down” and wound up getting hopelessly bogged down in demands. Then came the shocker: despite the fact that Muxtape was trying to play by the rules, the RIAA filed a complaint with Amazon over files that Muxtape hosted there on its S3 server system, and Amazon shut off the services access to the files.

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Muxtape: What’s our lawyer’s number again?

Update:

It doesn’t sound like Muxtape is coming back anytime soon, judging by the statement that Portfolio magazine got from the RIAA (hat tip to MG Siegler at VentureBeat for the link), which said that the record industry group had “repeatedly tried to work with them to have illegal content taken down” and that the site “has not obtained authorization from our member companies to host or stream copies of their sound recordings.”

Original post:

Muxtape, one of a host of popular online music-sharing apps that have sprung up over the past few months, has shut down, but claims that it isn’t gone for good. The website says that it will be “unavailable for a brief period while we sort out a problem with the RIAA,” while the Muxtape blog says that “no artists or labels have complained” and maintains that “the site is not closed indefinitely.” Will the site be able to strike a deal with the record industry’s lobby group/enforcer? Many music-sharing services have tried and failed to do so in the past.

The issues are laid out fairly well in a recent Valleywag post about the startup, which is run by Justin Ouellette, formerly of Vimeo, and financed by Vimeo co-founder Jakob Lodwick. The fact that Muxtape allows you to share your music with others is a legal grey area (depending on whom you talk to), but the ability to download those songs quickly and easily is likely what has the RIAA’s knickers in a twist. According to Valleywag, Ouellette has talked about changing the format of the songs streamed through Muxtape.com to make it harder to capture them.

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Musical interlude: virtual mixtapes

Maybe it was all the posts about the ISP music tax, but I started thinking about how one of the most important things about music is that we enjoy listening to it and want to share it with others — and that the Web is one of the best ways of doing that. Whether it’s emailing a friend an mp3 file, sending one through Pownce, or creating an mp3 blog and getting crawled by Hypemachine.com, there are lots of ways to do it. How do artists get compensated? I have to admit I don’t know. But having people share your music has to be good.

A couple of the newer ones I’ve come across are Muxtape.com and Mixwit — and I am indebted to Fred Wilson, the music-loving VC, for both of them, since I found out about them by reading his blog. As Fred has described, Muxtape is incredibly easy: fill in a few fields and upload some songs, and that’s it. The interface is also really stripped down, which is great (although I don’t understand why the typeface has to be so gigantic). Is it legal? Who really knows. It’s a great way to share music.

Mixwit.com is a little more complicated, but not much, and you can add an image of an old cassette, which is kind of cool for those of us who (like John Cusack in High Fidelity) remember when that was the primary means of music sharing. Plus, you can do one thing with Mixwit that you can’t with Muxtape (at least not yet) and that is embed it in a blog. To me that is a killer feature. My friend David Gratton of Project Opus has a Facebook app that is somewhat similar called Mixxmaker.