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Why has Sony bought Gracenote?

Oiling the machine

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$260m is a lot to pay for a pile of information about a dying music format - but Sony might just have made the deal of the century. The entertainment giant now has the biggest store of music metadata in the world, with the acquisition of Gracenote. The deal is expected to be completed in May.

Gracenote has its roots in CDDB: a kind of Wikipedia of user-submitted CD track information, which ran on Xmcd, a piece of open source software. While it initially shunned commercial deals, the maintainers made a deal in 1998 to go commercial. It's now the de facto way software such as iTunes acquires track information - and it's spawned a successful business, estimated to be worth about $40m a year.

Gracenote has spawned a recommendation engine and acoustic identification service, much like pioneer Shazam.

(The original software and pre-fork database lives on at freedb, but without the critical mass of users and updates from labels, it's a spooky sort of afterlife.)

But as the distribution container for music changes from plastic discs to a bit stream, the information still needs to be logged so the creators can get their dues. Shawn Fanning tried to build a system to fulfill that need with Imeem, but found the future took a long time coming (see Right idea, wrong time: Snocap's corpse washes up at Imeem). Gracenote has much of what's needed to oil the machine.

And as co-founder Steve Scherf told WiReD magazine two years ago, people will be popping CDs into internet-connected machines for a long time to come. ®

Bootnote: Wikipedians take note. One minute you can be working in a people-powered commune, the next minute you're working for The Man.

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