Remember when Amazon launched a cloud music locker service, without record labels’ permission, and then went around asking for licenses? Now Google’s about to launch its own music locker service, and it does not seem to be bothered about the lack of licenses either. And given Google’s behavior with regard to its Google Books scanning program, I wouldn’t expect it to change its mind on licensing the way Amazon did, either. (Apple is reportedly also working on such a service, though thanks to its work with record labels on the iTunes Music Store seems to be having better luck getting label licensing.)

Do labels have to license an upload locker service? It’s an interesting legal question, with implications for every other form of digital media. After all, music isn’t the only thing that can be uploaded and enjoyed remotely. So can movies (though they’ll take a lot more bandwidth than music, and that pesky issue of DRM and the DMCA means it’s probably not going to be legal for most movies any time soon), and for that matter e-books (though thanks to Dropbox and Calibre, most tech-savvy people are unlikely to need a commercial service for that).

Theoretically, once we’ve ripped an MP3, it’s ours to do whatever we want with, as long as we don’t violate copyright by making copies for the use of other people. Uploading it to a storage site in the cloud shouldn’t be any different from pushing it out through USB to our iPods. But record labels have long had a different opinion, suing Michael Robertson’s MP3Tunes locker service for copyright violation the same way they sued his proto-locker,, out of business.

The service ripped CDs on its own and only made them available to people who could prove they owned (or had access to) copies of the physical CDs in question. A court ruled that the service didn’t meet the requirements of fair use because it copied entire CDs rather than excerpts and was done for commercial purposes. Robertson explained that he was unable to appeal because of a requirement that a bond be posted for potential statutory damages, which could potentially have amounted to billions of dollars—something could not have afforded. In that regard, it’s unclear whether Robertson’s MP3Tunes service will be able to come out ahead in court, either—all it could take is one lower-court defeat to shut it down.

But now that billionaire businesses like Amazon, Google, and Apple are entering the game, this may just change things. While Apple seems content not to rock the boat, and Amazon is hastily trying to calm the waters, Google doesn’t seem likely to bother based on past behavior. And if the record labels decide to take Google to court, Google has the resources to argue it all the way. And that could affect the rights we have to use any digital media, including e-books. (Found via TechDirt.)

(On a related note, Amazon’s cloud locker player now seems to work fairly well on iOS devices.)


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