Column – Industry shouldn’t stop Amazon’s new cloud music service

April 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

Originally published in The Daily Toreador.

Last week, Amazon launched its new Amazon Cloud Player service, which allows you to play your music — whether bought from Amazon directly or uploaded from your own collection — anywhere, provided you’re around a computer or an Android device.

But the music industry, in their infinite wisdom, was quick to say, “Uhhh, wait a minute.” See, they saw a service that says “music” on it and realized it wasn’t something they were profiting from directly, and that upset the men in suits.

Often when consumers “lash out” against a company that produces entertainment (such as music, movies or video games), I take the company’s side.

Most Internet ranting on the subject sadly consists of stupid things like, “Piracy isn’t stealing because there’s no physical object” and other arguments from people who either want to justify wrong actions or who just don’t understand the industry or the terms of service they agree to when they buy and/or install a product.

But when it comes to this Amazon versus the music industry issue, I’m all for the consumer. Team Amazon all the way.

The problem is, all this stuff is extremely tricky in terms of what the law actually says and what does or doesn’t, in fact, hurt the artist in question.

For example, if one person purchases a movie, then streams that movie online for free, the creators of that movie (many of whom are already underpaid, relatively speaking) lose a lot of money. There’s no “ifs” or “buts” about it. It’s stealing.

However, when you buy a DVD yourself, you expect to be able to show it to your family and friends when they come over and you need something to do. It’s just common sense. Similarly, when you buy a movie (or song or whatever), you expect to be able to view it however you want, by ripping a copy onto your iPad or watching it on a portable DVD player — whatever you’re in the mood for.

What constitutes “personal use”? How problematic are things like lending or selling a used disc, for which the creators see no profit?

Copyright law and intellectual property law don’t cover a lot of the weirder scenarios, and when they do, they can be vague and unhelpful.

One such uncharted territory is cloud-based streaming. Do users have the right to store their files in a “digital locker” and access them wherever? Common sense says “yes,” and services like Dropbox are far too useful to do away with. But the law doesn’t really cover it, yet.

The music industry claims such digital lockers are just Internet code for “piracy tool,” but I’m not sure they’re really that naïve. Then again, corporate stupidity is often surprising.

At the same time, “sticking it to the man” by actually pirating music would be the wrong response here. As much as corporations behind the entertainment industry tend to suck, they still pay a ton of artists and other employees who deserve recognition for what they’ve accomplished.

Beyond that, things like piracy tend to only make the corporations fight back harder, which often ruins things for the rest of us.

It’s a tough balance, to be sure. It will be interesting to see whether or not Amazon pursues new licensing deals in order to keep the record labels happy (as a rumor from The Wall Street Journal suggests) or whether they’re confident enough in their own legal standing that they do nothing at all.

Either way, hopefully consumer convenience will continue to push forward in the face of adversity. I don’t listen to a ton of music, but Amazon’s Cloud Player sounds like something a lot of music lovers could appreciate.

Britton Peele

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Freelance video game critic for sites like GameSpot and GamesRadar. Amateur fantasy author.

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