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Pandora shuts box on users outside US

Record cartels kneecap streaming service

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Pandora.com, the popular net radio station that helps users discover new music and build custom playlists, will block most people outside the US from accessing its service because of legal pressure being exerted by record labels.

Launched in 2005, Pandora has always billed itself as a service for US listeners only, but until now it never enforced that policy. Beginning Thursday, people accessing Pandora from most IP addresses originating outside the US will be prevented from accessing streaming services.

"It's devastating for us to have to do that," Pandora founder Tim Westergren told The Register. "We're terribly disappointed and frustrated, but the existing law right now is such that we can't legally," stream to most users outside the US.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act mandates compulsory licensing to internet broadcasters streaming to US-based listeners, but there are no such laws requiring copyright holders to license their works for net consumption in other countries, Westergren said. Pandora has been working to secure licenses to stream music to non-US listeners, but other than in the UK, has made little progress so far.

Westergren said Pandora's move to block users outside the US follows months of pressure from record labels.

Pandora has racked up a loyal following who are attracted to the service's sophisticated music analysis features, which Westergren first began crafting in 1999 under the lofty-sounding Music Genome Project. It assigns more than 50 trained music analysts to listen to music, one song at a time, to catalog close to 400 attributes, helping users to figure out which tunes work together well in a playlist.

While it's sad to see a site a useful as Pandora get whacked in the knee-caps by the record cartels, there's still reason for hope. So far as we can tell, the prohibition against users with foreign IP addresses should be easily circumvented by ProxyBlind or some other proxy service.

Pandora has also pledged to continue its efforts to obtain licenses for its outside users. In the meantime, Pandora is promising to maintain a record of bookmarked artists, songs and other settings. ®

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