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Anti-trust looms over major labels legal blitz

'They only did it for the fame. Who?'

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Serial entrepreneur Michael Robertson is embroiled in a legal fight against the recording business - and not for the first time. His MP3Tunes locker service has raised the ire of EMI in a case that continues this week. But isn't it weird, he asks, how the Big Four divvy up the litigation against music start-ups between them so neatly?

Robertson's current fight is over a service that's not too dissimilar to a feature of his MP3.com start-up, called MyMP3.com. That allowed users to make a digital copy of a CD they had legally purchased online. A court decided this wasn't covered by fair use, and MP3.com lost the case against Universal, which later bought out the company.

This time, Robertson shot first: suing EMI in September. EMI counter-sued two months later. MP3tunes automatically syncs your iTunes or WMP collection online.

"They're playing tough and mean and nasty," he says. "There are five safe harbour provisions in the DMCA. The third one (512c) says that if you're storing the file at the direction of the user, you're exempt. That's exactly what we do."

On the other hand, 512c is what covers Google's YouTube service - and Google has vowed to clean up the service from infringing material. But Robertson says there's no sharing, in contrast to other services.

"You can't play music out of a locker, and there's no anonymous access or wink-wink nudge-nudge sharing where we look the other way. Xdrive - pick anyone - everyone has anonymous access where you can share it with the world.

"Here's how I like to think about this. Our business is the delivery of the music. You have it at home and play it at work. The labels never thought about the delivery.

"The business we're in, the distribution business, doesn't have to be a threat. It could be a best friend to the retail side. We can be your best partner."

All good points. I thought what the labels feared was what Robertson might do, once everyone had a digital locker. In that sense, it was like the book authors and publishers litigation against Google Books.

But Robertson has noticed something that we hadn't noticed before.

Which is quite spooky.

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