On Tuesday, Amazon surprised everyone by introducing Amazon Cloud Drive. Everyone was literally surprised, including the record labels, consumers, journalists -- nobody had a clue this was coming. In case you've missed it, Amazon Cloud Drive is an online file locker where you can store your files, including your audio files and access them anywhere.
It was just last week we got a glimpse at some of the ideas being presented to the president regarding copyright law, among those ideas, making illegal streaming music a felony.
Why does that matter? Well, er, according some labels, Amazon's new service might be doing just that. Before we start looking at the arguments from the major labels against Amazon, let's first remember one key facet of music ownership: You don't own your music. You're licensing it for private use. You can't do whatever you want with it.
So, the possible impending legal battle between Amazon and the labels is uncharted territory and has the potential to be a pretty big deal.
First off, let's look at the actual service. Amazon technically launched two services, Cloud Drive and Cloud Player. Basically, you upload your music library to Cloud Drive for a fee (5 GB are free to everyone, and the price goes up from there -- but it's surprising affordable as long as you don't have 1 TB of music). After downloading some special software, you'll be able to start uploading your music to the cloud. Depending on the size of your library, this could take a very large chunk of time (in our case, 95 hours, 10 minutes).
Once it's online, you'll have access to your library on any computer with an internet connection and a web browser. If you have an Android phone, you'll have it there, too (iPhone users are presently out of luck). It's a pretty straightforward interface on a computer and a service that should be immensely helpful to anyone bouncing between a work and home computer. It all works well, and although most cell networks in Denver won't give you a good enough connection to stream your music seamlessly, it's still better than having nothing at all.
Here's the rub. When Amazon launched this very consumer-friendly service, they didn't talk to the record labels because they didn't feel legally obligated to. It shouldn't be a big deal. After all, this is music you purchased, and you're just storing it in a place where you can get access to this content regardless of where you're sitting, right?
Well -- not exactly. The big four record labels see the words "streaming" and they see dollar signs. On multiple occasions, they've claimed that cloud storage licenses are worth billions. Amazon's user agreement for their MP3 store is a bit ambiguous on the topic, when you purchase songs from them, you'll have the right to, "copy, store, transfer and burn the Digital Content only for personal, non-commercial, entertainment use."
An important note: You don't have to purchase their MP3s to use the cloud. Any music on your hard drive can go up there. They're calling it a backup service that you happen to be able to stream from.
Hmmm... Confusing, yes? Amazon is saying they have the rights to stream this content, and they don't need new licenses. The big four? Well, they see things a little differently. Here's what they've said so far:
Some nameless "music veteran" told Fox News that "It sounds like legalized murder to me."
In an interview with Reuters, Sony Music spokesperson Liz Young said they'll keep their "legal options open."
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal a Sony exec said, "We are disappointed that the locker service that Amazon is proposing is unlicensed by Sony Music."
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Nobody else from the big four have weighed in yet, but we know from the 2008 lawsuit filed by EMI against MP3Tunes that they aren't going to agree with it, either. On the flipside, former e-music CEO David Packman thinks it's entirely legal.
So what does this all mean, exactly? Right now, all we know is Amazon is in talks with the labels regarding licensing, but they've already stated they don't believe they need a license to allow users to store their music on their cloud drive. The word "streaming" is the hiccup here because labels have long been relying on the ability to stream music to be the wave that will save their business.
If the labels decide to sue Amazon, big changes could be in store for the way we consume media and, more importantly, for the way we address and talk about copyright law. While a lawsuit won't be pretty, it might finally force the law books to officially catch up with the industry.
If nothing else, Amazon just threw a pie in the face of both Apple and Google, both of whom have been rumored to on the verge of launching similar services.