Head in the cloud

Amazon launched its Cloud Player yesterday which, as Wired explains,

can stream your music library to any web browser or Android mobile device. Cloud Player also allows you to download files and create playlists through its web-based interface.

So Amazon lets you store your music on a remote hard drive and stream it to local devices?  Sounds pretty straightforward.  Of course, the record labels don’t think so.  From Ars Technica:

We wondered aloud how Amazon managed to strike such an impressive licensing deal with the record labels, given the fact that Apple seems to still be working out the details for its own digital locker service. It turns out that Amazon hasn’t struck a deal, and seems to be hoping that the record companies will be the ones to blink.

“[W]e do not need a license to store music in Cloud Drive,” Griffin added in an e-mail to Ars. “The functionality of saving MP3s to Cloud Drive is the same as if a customer were to save their music to an external hard drive or even iTunes.”

That’s certainly not what the music industry seems to think, though—at least in regards to Cloud Player. In an interview with Reuters, Sony Music spokesperson Liz Young said the company hoped for a license deal but that it was keeping its “legal options open.”

Amazon certainly has made a gutsy play here.  The major labels are currently embroiled in a lawsuit against MP3tunes for providing essentially the same service as Amazon.  According to an amici curiae brief (PDF) in that case, the primary legal issue turns on whether or not Internet streaming necessarily constitutes a “public performance” (which would violate copyright owners’ rights unless licensed).  There is a powerful argument that it does not:

MP3tunes does not transmit music to the general public, nor to all of its subscribers. A particular work in a particular locker will only be transmitted to a user who has placed it there—in other words, after he or she has averred to MP3tunes that she either legally owns the file and have uploaded it to her locker, or that she has legal authorization to access the file on the Web and has sideloaded it into her locker. The subset of MP3tunes users who have uploaded or sideloaded any one particular track (and thus have stated to MP3tunes that they are authorized to do so) still falls far short of the “public” required by the transmit clause.

Of course, the simple fact that it has become necessary to make this legal argument illustrates just how broken copyright law is.  The statute is long, complicated, and muddled enough to lend at least some plausibility to virtually any argument imaginable.  Even an argument claiming that storing one’s own music on a private, password-protected server for convenience violates the letter (if not the spirit) of copyright law.

Stay tuned…

Updated 3/31/2011: Ars Technica has a follow-up piece today that quotes from their interview with MP3tunes’ CEO Michael Robertson (bio from his blog):

The word “streaming” and the word “download” are nowhere in copyright law.  It may be a very logical, common sense position, but all that matters is what the law says. Can you store your own music? Can you listen from anywhere? What if your wife or kids want to listen to it? All those things are completely unchartered [sic] territory.

Of course, as we routinely point out around here, “logic” and “common sense” have absolutely nothing to do with the current state of U.S. copyright law.

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