I did some research on Lala
actually using it and watching what is happening on the machine and
network connections. Here are some of my findings. I hope they are
factual. If I am wrong on anything, please let me know so I can correct
Note: I think everyone knows this but I will say it for full
disclosure. I am CEO of MP3tunes
which is an online personal music locker that some would say is
competitive with Lala's new service. (Although after reading this you
might change your mind.) I also built a service while CEO of MP3.com
called Beam-It that would load music into personal lockers if you had
possession of the CD. (We were sued by music companies and found guilty
of copyright infringement in a landmark legal case.)
Lala has made Mac/MSWin software that runs within your browser but
requires a traditional software download and install. After
installation it scans your computer's iTunes or 'My Music' directory
for files. It uploads these files to an online locker. But it does
quite a few curious things.
- It will only upload files that
it matches in advance with the Gracenote database. If it doesn't have a
match it skips the file. (It
skipped about half of my files.)
- The files it uploads it converts to 64k
mono aac files before
uploading. (Yes you read right mono.)
- For many files that i presume it already
has in its database, it
simply makes a copy available in your locker and skips the upload step.
In one 50 song test it only uploaded 14 songs but all 50 songs were
available for playback.
- Given the 3 above steps it appears to the
user that uploads are
happening very quickly. If you browse the web locker interface it
commingles the remote and local (skipped) files if you are on the same
computer you uploaded from. Only when you go to another computer and
install the required software to play songs (no linux), will you
discover that all the songs are not in a locker.
- You can browse and play songs from other
people's lockers. You can
even add them to your own locker.
- Some songs (appears to be Warner artists)
can be downloaded into
iPods. These will have a different color connotation in the web
interface and are 64k mono.
All of this raises some questions for me:
Does anyone want to listen to am quality music which is what Lala
provides with 64k mono? (Maybe people on a cell phone on a bus?)
Is it a useful music locker if it only includes a portion of your music?
Do 64k files have any value as a backup?
Will they expand their support to other devices beyond iPods?
If the music locker has only a portion of your library, has low quality
copies of little archival value, and only works on iPods doesn't that
negate all the value of a music locker?
Have they negotiated a license with all the labels for this?
If not, how can they avoid the fate of MP3.com's
old baby which required users to have a physical CD.)
What is the legal premise they are using to be able to load lockers
from a digital database? (I have heard speculation that it is the DMCA
and they will claim a user is submitting the initial file and therefore
they are immune from copyright claims. I guess this is not that
different from YouTube which gets an initial copy and then gives copies
to everyone else who wants it. But using the same logic could I take
user submitted files and make bootleg cds to sell at the swapmeet?)
For the copies they are loading to iPods of songs from their database
(which users do not own), are they planning on paying publishers their
Will lawsuits rain down from major labels, publishers and even
individual artists like James Taylor and Billy Joel as happened with MP3.com?
Will publishers and labels press Lala on these issues immediately or
let them queue up a few billion in statutory alleged copyright
infringement to maximize their leverage?
If it goes to lawsuits, in what jurisdiction will it end up? The tech
friendly west coast or media friendly east coast (where the MP3.com
precedence can be referenced)?
Were the VCs that invested aware of this business model before they put
their money in? (Lala's previous business was CD swapping for $1.)
Who is Lala's legal counsel and can they compete with the media
companies copyright experts?
These will be fascinating questions to have answered over the coming
months that will be relevant to the digital music business.
MP3tunes offers a personal music locker, but it operates
differently than Lala. For comparison purposes I'm including a table
listing some of the notable differences.
To discuss this topic with others, click here!
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