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Google and Amazon cloud music nears judgment day

Clock ticks on MP3tunes.com case

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A David versus Goliath legal case that could affect new cloud music services from Google and Amazon is on the verge of a decision.

In August, a judge is expected to rule on EMI's four-year-old case against tiny music locker MPE3tunes.com and its founder for alleged copyright violation.

MP3tunes.com founder Michael Robertson has predicted not only that EMI will lose, but that when it does, other labels will have no choice but to become more reasonable in licensing music to clouds from Amazon, Google, and others.

An MP3tunes victory would also clarify who owns the music on a consumer's computer – the consumer or the labels – and whether consumers are allowed to upload and play their tunes on other PCs or devices without paying extra fees.

"The court's issue is: can you store personal media online, can you play it back, can you transcode it?" Robertson told The Register. "Those are core issues in our case, and they will be decided and I think we will win.

"They [EMI] started the clock four years ago with us and they can't play that for another five years - that's going to come to a head this summer, and when that comes to a head they are going to have lost and the law is clear."

The thesis behind EMI's entire argument is simple: you do not own the music you paid money for, you are simply renting it from EMI

MP3tunes.com is a music locker, a service that lets you upload and store your music to the web and tthen play your tunes on a PC or some other device. It has one million users.

The company is five years old and music lockers have been around for 11, but Google and Amazon - giants in their corners of the internet - are now getting into the game. Within the last two months, the two companies launched the Google Music beta and the Amazon Cloud Drive.

Apple, already huge in online music thanks to iTunes, is also expected to launch a locker at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WDC) next month in San Francisco, California.

But there's a big difference. Apple has reportedly paid three of the four big labels to license their music, while Google and Amazon - like MP3tunes.com - have not signed licenses. Amazon reportedly surprised the labels with its launch, but Google was apparently in talks to pay the labels $100m befor they backed out because of concern that Google search and YouTube often point to pirated music.

The labels are not happy, and they made it clear they could deploy lawyers. A Sony spokesperson told Reuters upon Amazon's launch. "We hope that they'll reach a new license deal, but we're keeping all of our legal options open," Sony said.

The labels aren't shy about deploying lawyers. EMI's case hit both MP3tunes and its sister site Sideload.com, both of which were founded by digital music veteran and tech entrepreneur Roberston. EMI claims (warning: PDF) that MP3tunes.com has infringed its rights to the performance, reproduction, and redistribution of its works. For EMI, if you upload music that you ownjfrom your PC to a third-party service, you are illegally copying the material. Streaming or copying to a different PC are also seen as acts of illegal distribution.

Renters' market

EMI believes that you must either buy a copy of Lady Antibellum's Need You Now for every PC, iPod, or smartphone you want to play it on, or that you must pay EMI every time you play Need You Now on a new device. For EMI, you do not own the music you paid money for. You are simply renting it from EMI.

EMI's case also targets Robertson's Sideload.com, a music search engine that lets you stream music and store copies in your music locker. Using Sideload.com, you are doing nothing different to what you could do using Google search, in terms of looking for music available online and then saving or streaming it using the player on your PC, iPod, or smartphone.

Labels like Sony want music lockers and music services to take out a license that nails down download and play rights for the service provider or consumer.

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