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'Don't shoot the MP3.com archive,' pleads founder Robertson

Still a live grenade, after all these years?

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MP3.com founder Michael Robertson, now CEO of Lindows.com, has launched a last ditch appeal for the preservation of the site's archive. Last week Vivendi Universal sold MP3.com to CNET, but the million or so songs there were not part of the deal, "will not be transferred to CNET Networks, Inc. or any other third party [and]... will be destroyed."

Robertson has some interesting insights on VU's motivation in purchasing MP3.com in the first place, and he insists it was not simply to shut it down and make the world safe for DRM. "You don't spend nearly $400 million on property you intend to destroy." (N.B. Michael, this is not conclusive - having observed Vivendi's recent trajectories, we'd be happier putting it, You don't intend to destroy something you spent nearly $400 million on.) But back to Michael:

"In fact, VU deployed the technology and people from MP3.com throughout their media empire. VU now uses a customer tracking system across its media properties to manage email campaigns and profile music listeners in a scientific way. They took the digital publishing engine MP3.com perfected, and now have the most advanced digital publishing architecture in the world. Music goes from the recording studio directly into a digital library, where it can be sent to the CD pressing plant, music subscription systems, publishing libraries, and much more -- all digitally and precisely tracked. VU also took the my.mp3 subscription system and used it as the foundation of the Pressplay, which became the recently launched Napster 2.0 music subscription system."

So if Robertson is right, VU now has a lean, mean digital publishing killing machine, the most obvious thing lacking being a packaging of the product that is acceptable to both the customer and the industry. The identification of which remains kind of key, we accept.

But you can surely accept that there wasn't a whole lot VU could actually do with the archive, and how trying to think of what they could safely do with it would have been enough to sober up the CNET execs just before they got to the altar. So as Michael says, the archive got it, "It simply didn't fit into any of Vivendi's corporate initiatives."

Robertson points out that although many dead sites live on via Archive.org, Vivendi hasn't given permission for Archive.org to capture MP3.com. We'd hazard that the 'poison chalice' aspect might come into play here as well, given that we don't recall giving Archive.org permission to archive The Register's old sites, it just kind of happened and very useful it is too. So maybe you could read some proactivity into VU's "will not be transferred to... any other third party," and the russling sound of lawyers is never far away when music companies are around.

Robertson asks that VU give permission to Archive.org to make a copy, or that CNET do so if it has rights (which seems doubtful). But it's a pretty forlorn hope. An MP3.com archive would be defanged in that it would be inactive, read-only, and therefore would increasingly become a branch of the digital Smithsonian. But ownership is a difficulty, a particular one for VU under the circumstances. Can it allow stuff to be copied when it isn't absolutely sure who owns everything? Should it get the owners' permission first? Is it sure they weren't lying when they claimed they were the owners? Who might sue it? Will it end up suing itself? Nnnnnngggg....

It's a sort of backhanded tribute that even in decline, MP3.com remains sufficient of a landmine to warrant controlled detonation as the only acceptable out. So long - destroyed, but not 'erased,' exactly...

* Michael Robertson, by the way, has impressed us recently with his Michael's Minute bulletins. Many of them are excellent polemics (we told him this and he claimed he had to look polemic up, which we doubt), barely including Lindows commercials at all. The latest, and links to previous, can be found here. Recommended. ®

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