Seven Different Ways to Get Your Recommended Daily Requirement of Music

This is the third installment of our series on the legal aspects of online digital music services.  We turn now to the services themselves:  here are thumbnail sketches of the six major new online music services.  For those not in widespread public release, our information is derived from press reports, rumor, scuttlebutt and innuendo.  When we start examining the services in detail, we’ll add links from here to the associated blog posts.

Pandora OK, calling this “new” is a bit of a stretch, but it really kicked off this new way of listening to music.  Because it has a track-record of success, it’s a good measuring stick to set against the newer services.  Pandora is free with advertisements.  It does not play music on demand, but it does a good job of playing music you’ll probably like.  It operates by “streaming” music over the internet (but we’re not sure what sort of streaming is used or any of the specifics).  Pandora does not obtain licenses for its music directly from copyright holders but operates under the statutory “webcaster” license.

Spotify Free/Unlimited:  In America, this is the newest such service as of this writing.  It streams music to your computer (but not mobile device) on demand.  (Again, we’re unsure about the details of the streaming.)  It’s free, but with advertisements and a limit on listening time.  For $4.99 a month, you can dispense with both limitations.  Spotify has licensed its streaming content from the copyright holders.

Spotify Premium:  Like the Spotify Unlimited, but with a faster transfer rate and two new features.  First, it permits the use of mobile devices.  Second, it has an “offline mode,” which means that the music files (up to 3,333) are actually stored on your device for playback on demand.  This storage lasts as long as you’re a premium customer (and you have tapped out the maximum number of titles).  It costs $9.99 a month.  Again, its content is licensed.  This is currently in beta and might be the most complex of the new services.  It is expected to work very much like Pandora, except the business of picking music is essentially curated on the fly by other users.  So instead of an algorithm choosing what music you’d like, other users (who might be tastemakers) do the choosing (in real time).  The music is streamed and there’s no download option (but you can purchase a song through iTunes).  The music selection is functionally “on-demand”  for the “DJs,” but not for anyone else.  There are lots of minor but important limitations, such as ensuring that someone else is “listening” before you can start playing music.  It’s not really clear where the music files themselves will come from–uploaded from its users, obtained from a digital content provider, or both (and the choice may be crucial).  It’s believed the service will be free.  Our understanding is that the content will not be licensed but, like Pandora, will try to operate under the “webcaster” license.

Grooveshark Grooveshark has two ends.  On one end, it encourages subscribers to upload their music to Grooveshark’s servers.  On the other end, it streams this uploaded music, on demand, to subscribers.  The service is free with advertisements.  The music is not licensed.  It’s been legally challenged three times.  One resulted in a license agreement, one is said to be about to settled (with another license agreement), and one has just gotten started here in Nashville.

Amazon’s Cloud Drive:  Users may upload music they already (allegedly) own to “the cloud,” and listen to streams of the music on any internet-connected device.  Each user’s song files will be segregated from other user’s song files (so, if 1000 users upload “Boom Boom Pow,” there will be 1000 separate copies of “Boom Boom Pow” on Amazon’s cloud-servers).  It is not licensed, and Amazon appears not to be seeking to obtain licenses.  It has yet to be legally challenged, but everyone’s waiting for it.  It is free for the first 5 GB of storage.

Google Music:  Still in beta, but it appears to be pretty much the same as Cloud Drive.  It is not currently licensed while in beta, but Google is said to trying to obtain licenses.  It’s currently free, but no one expects that to last.

Apple’s iCloud:  Users will have free access to their iTunes purchases through the internet on any connected device.  For a fee, users will also have access to any of their music (not just songs purchased through iTunes), either by uploading the song or through by “matching” the user’s song to a song already in Apple’s catalogue.  Apple says it has obtained licenses for all contingencies.

ReDigi: Currently in beta. A secondary market for “used” music files. Users can mark songs in their catalogue–but only ones that they purchased legitimately online–for re-sell. Upon sale, the song file is wiped from the seller’s computer, thus maintaining a one-to-one correspondence between copies sold and purchased.

In our next entry in this series, we’ll spend some quality time with Grooveshark–not only because it’s the subject of the local copyright dispute, but also because it presents the hardest, most fascinating case.  In fact, we’re pretty sure it’ll take two posts just to go through it all.

Thanks for reading!

Rick Sanders

Rick is an intellectual-property litigator. He handles lawsuits, arbitrations, emergency injunctions and temporary restraining orders, opposition and cancellation proceedings, uniform dispute resolution proceedings (UDRPs), pre-litigation counseling, litigation avoidance, and other disputes, relating to copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, domain names, technology and intellectual-property licenses, and various privacy rights. He has taught Copyright Law at Vanderbilt University Law School. He co-founded Aaron | Sanders with Tara Aaron-Stelluto in 2011.