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April 4, 2011 10:32 AM   Subscribe

As Amazon and the RIAA go head to head over the Amazon Cloud Player (esentially Dropbox with streaming) it seems like a good time to recap the turbulent history of the humble MP3, upender of the music industry business model.
posted by Artw (83 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gotta hand it to Amazon, they beat Apple to the punch and have the infrastructure and developers to make it work. I hope the record companies fail.

Anyone know if there's an API for the Cloud Player coming down the pike?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:44 AM on April 4, 2011


"He gave away our business model. We were completely not amused."

this what happens when you think you are special when really you're just free (as in beer)
posted by victors at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2011



That's not the only thing Amazon and Apple are squabbling over.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2011


they beat Apple to the punch

Well, sort of. Apple (and Google, and others beside) are pursuing a licensing based approach that's require a lot of difficult and complex negotiation, Amazon is kind of cutting through that and just saying "fuck it, if the user already bought it, if they upload it they can stream it" - which is going to appeal to many people and maps to how people behave anyway, but doesn't give the music industry a second cut.

TBH in most of these situations the music industry reminds me of the dog with a bone that sees it's reflection in the water - it keeps on trying to grab that second bone and ending up with nothing.
posted by Artw at 10:50 AM on April 4, 2011 [35 favorites]


Everything old is new again::
If you remember back to the late 1990's, MP3.com got in a whole lot of trouble with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) over MyMP3.com, a secure "locker" for users to store their digital music collection. Now that service has been partly resurrected by MP3Tunes (from the same founder of MP3.com, Michael Robertson) except this time users will have to upload their own files, not use pre-ripped files from 80,000+ CDs that were ripped by MP3.com.
That's not a new article, but one from 2005. Surprisingly, MP3Tunes is still around, and their founder was interviewed recently, along with mSpot's founder. Both "beat Apple to the punch," but neither had the name recognition (or probably the marketing clout) to get noticed.

Also related: "Big Content" Is Strangling American Innovation -- James Allworth, guest blogger post at Harvard Business Review (via Slashdot). Summary: because of US-based Big Content companies and lobbyists, technological innovations are more likely to occur overseas.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Amazon argues that Cloud Drive and Cloud Player are just services that let users upload and play back their own music, just like “any number of existing media management applications.”

This reminds me of MP3.com's argument a decade of so ago.
posted by birdherder at 10:51 AM on April 4, 2011


I'm a little confused - as far as I can tell, ACP is an online storage service with some special streaming capabilities for certain filetypes.

How does licensing fit in? If I upload my files/music to ACP, who does the RIAA want me to get a license from? Why? Do they just want Amazon to examine the data I upload for copyrighted materials?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:52 AM on April 4, 2011


I was boggled when I realized they were doing the locker with no licenses. The only thing I could imagine was that Amazon thought the cut they'd have to give the labels after the legal fight would be enough smaller that it would work out in their favor over time. The payoff for getting out from under label licensing for streaming would be huge enough to make it worth the risk, though.
posted by immlass at 10:54 AM on April 4, 2011


That's not a new article, but one from 2005. Surprisingly, MP3Tunes is still around, and their founder was interviewed recently, along with mSpot's founder. Both "beat Apple to the punch," but neither had the name recognition (or probably the marketing clout) to get noticed.

Interesting - I'd assumed they were just dragging along as a zombie company, but they are actually doing stuff?
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2011


Call when I can point the Cloud Drive to my 30 GB of MP3s that are already backed up on Amazon S3. I am not uploading all that again to Amazon.
posted by COD at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Apple (and Google, and others beside) are pursuing a licensing based approach that's require a lot of difficult and complex negotiation

That was my impression too. Apple's got that mysterious data warehouse in North Carolina just sitting there, waiting for something...when Amazon's Cloud Player dropped, it made sense that this was similar to what Apple wanted to do, except Apple is treading carefully to make sure they never have to postfix their version of the service with arbitrary obstacles imposed by lawsuit.

My hat's off to Amazon for having the balls to do this. I don't see any plausible reason why anybody shouldn't be able to offer this service, but the major entertainment conglomerates behave predictably; they are guaranteed to attempt to turn any of these services into a revenue stream for themselves regardless of what the middleman (Amazon, Google, Apple, etc.) or the users consider fair and commonsensical.
posted by ardgedee at 10:59 AM on April 4, 2011


Cloud Drive = Amazon S3 (Retail Edition)

As for mp3.com, that was completely different. If you could verify you owned the disc, they'd make a copy of their copy of the mp3 and put it in your locker. That's an unauthorized copy as far as the law is concerned.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:01 AM on April 4, 2011


"Big Content" Is Strangling American Innovation -Harvard Business Review
posted by jeffburdges at 11:04 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


How does licensing fit in? If I upload my files/music to ACP, who does the RIAA want me to get a license from? Why? Do they just want Amazon to examine the data I upload for copyrighted materials?

Uploading your files to Amazon's servers and redownloading or streaming them is a kind of format shifting. Format shifting is based on fair use, which means that it's a defense to infringement, not an explicitly defined right. The RIAA's theory is that any kind of format or time shifting is illegal copyright infringement until proven otherwise (e.g. as with the Sony v. Universal City Studios case).

The RIAA likely wants one of two outcomes: either a blanket licensing deal whereby Amazon pays it a per megabyte fee for uploaded data (as you point out, analyzing the data for copyrighted status is too difficult) or they simply want the service killed outright. Remember, the RIAA has a horrible track record when it comes to embracing and commercializing new technology. It would not surprise me if the end goal was the death of Cloud Player and a return to the status quo.

And to a certain extent it makes sense: cloud streaming is, one sense, the 'end game' of music format and device compatibility problems. You upload your music one time and from then on you can stream your music—transcoded into a different format if necessary—to just about any device with an internet connection. No more syncing, no more format issues, no more repurchasing when a new format comes out. Once and done. That's got to really bother the RIAA.
posted by jedicus at 11:05 AM on April 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


the death of Cloud Player and a return to the status quo.

They've got a great record for killing off potential businesses that don't make them quite as much money as they like, but a crappy one for defending the status quo, unless the status quo is "everyone just finds ways to do do everything whether it's legal or not".
posted by Artw at 11:08 AM on April 4, 2011


I like how an activity is no longer piracy when huge corporations do it. The anti-DRM world has been having this conversation for...15 years? But the RIAA only takes a change of business model under advisement when up against another megacorp.
posted by DU at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2011


...oh, and teaching the public to hate the concept of copyright in any form, that's their other big success of course.
posted by Artw at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of the olden days when orchestras working for radio stations and doing other live performances were violently against those record thingies, because it would cut into their profits. People today should read some of those old newspaper editorials, they're quite fascinating--and familiar.
posted by Melismata at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


How does licensing fit in? If I upload my files/music to ACP, who does the RIAA want me to get a license from? Why? Do they just want Amazon to examine the data I upload for copyrighted materials?

Let's say you buy a physical music CD and rip it to a set of mp3 files. You've just made a (possibly illegal) copy. If you upload it to your iPod, that's another (possibly illegal) copy. But since you are just some guy it's hard for the RIAA to come after you for it. If you take the mp3 file and upload it to Amazon, and they take your (possibly illegal) copy and stream it back to you, that's something that the RIAA can sue over. It's not clear if any of this is legal, because US copyright law is very vague about fair use and there have never been any laws (in the US) that clarify what exactly you can do with digital copies of music that you own. If Apple or Google get explicit licenses with the record companies, then they can do whatever the license says they can, without making the courts decide if the license is actually necessary or not.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:10 AM on April 4, 2011


This reminds me of MP3.com's argument a decade of so ago.

MP3.com only had one copy of each CD and they would serve that copy to everyone who had that album registered in their account. That was a lot more dodgy in terms of copyright law, but made sense back then when storage was a lot more expensive. Here, Amazon is running a cloud storage service for the public, just like Dropbox, Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Amazon has been doing it for years with S3, just without the consumer friendly UI. You upload your own MP3s, and your files don't get mixed up with anyone else's. Since Amazon is entering this market comparatively late, they added a new feature to make the service more attractive to consumers (a form of innovation we normally like to encourage in this country): if you happen to upload an MP3 file to their service, they organize it and add a play button for you. Also, when you buy a new MP3 from their store, they put a copy in your Cloud Drive for you, just as Apple puts a copy of a song you bought on your iPad onto your computer. Cloud Player:Cloud Drive::iTunes:Your Hard Drive. That's it.
posted by zachlipton at 11:11 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


...oh, and teaching the public to hate the concept of copyright in any form, that's their other big success of course.

I thought it was Disney that did that.
posted by Melismata at 11:11 AM on April 4, 2011


A big difference from the dot-com days is that Amazon's pockets are deep, and like Apple, they have the music library to leverage that attracts customers who already bought a lot of music through Amazon and Apple stores. The convenience this provides is a huge selling point.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2011


I thought it was Disney that did that.

Maybe, but though the copyright extension thing may annoy some nerds Disney isn't out suing peoples grannies for millions of dollars.
posted by Artw at 11:14 AM on April 4, 2011


Both "beat Apple to the punch," but neither had the name recognition (or probably the marketing clout) to get noticed.

And neither were smart enough to just use S3 because in the end the only player with more bandwidth is Google and their bandwidth isn't for sale.

Just wait until the discussion is about streaming DVDs from your own private S3 account instead of MP3s. Because it's the exact same argument.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:15 AM on April 4, 2011


Just wait until the discussion is about streaming DVDs from your own private S3 account instead of MP3s. Because it's the exact same argument.

Why stream from S3 when you can rent a physical DVD player?
posted by burnmp3s at 11:19 AM on April 4, 2011


MP3.com only had one copy of each CD and they would serve that copy to everyone who had that album registered in their account. That was a lot more dodgy in terms of copyright law, but made sense back then when storage was a lot more expensive.

I get it. Be it one copy of a trillion copies, the RIAA argument will be the same. If they had it their way you'd pay for a CD copy, an iPod copy and a per-listen streaming copy. Maybe we should pay a fee to talk about it, too.

Look, I want the artist to get paid. But the copyright laws need to be rewritten. Unfortunately, those that would write the laws are the RIAA itself and/or politicians in the pockets of the RIAA and members of the music "industry."
posted by birdherder at 11:19 AM on April 4, 2011


Amazon is kind of cutting through that and just saying "fuck it, if the user already bought it, if they upload it they can stream it" - which is going to appeal to many people and maps to how people behave anyway, but doesn't give the music industry a second cut.
Now, if they would only do that for the kindle as well.
posted by Phredward at 11:20 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


The RIAA has a completely different idea of what "ownership" means in the context of digital music. Back in the record/cassette tape days, buying music meant buying something tangible. Making copies was difficult and often resulted in a reduction of quality. Music buyers assumed that they owned the music they purchased and while that might not have been legally correct, it was a reasonable assumption that most rational people (who are not lawyers) would make. The record companies certainly didn't go out of their way to assert anything to the contrary.

Fast forward to the digital (CD/MP3/etc.) age. Music buyers, conditioned by decades of purchases continue to assume that when they bought music, they owned it. The record companies, frightened by change and unwilling to even consider doing business differently, now begin to claim that when you handed your money to the clerk in the record store you weren't actually purchasing the music but instead you were entering in a licensing arrangement wherein you could play the music provided you followed the rules as defined by the record companies. Making copies, for any reason, wasn't part of the agreement. Sharing digital music wasn't either.

It was a nice try, really. But ultimately the music buyers continued to hold the opinion that when they bought a CD, they actually owned it and could do anything they wanted with it. It's been over 20 years and neither side has changed their mind. Or shows any hint doing so.
posted by tommasz at 11:21 AM on April 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


And neither were smart enough to just use S3 because in the end the only player with more bandwidth is Google and their bandwidth isn't for sale.

Not anymore...

And how do we know mSpot or MP3Tunes aren't using S3 on the backend? It's not as though their choice of hosting makes a difference anyway; the service is still the same idea.

Now, if they would only do that for the kindle as well.

Well, they kind of did. When you buy a Kindle book, it goes in your digital library, and you can redownload it whenever you want. You can put it on your Kindle, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android device, etc... without buying a new copy. It would be great if they went further (letting me download a DRM free copy so I have reason to believe I can still read my books in 30 years), but it's certainly in the same direction they are going with music.
posted by zachlipton at 11:23 AM on April 4, 2011


> Now, if they would only do that for the kindle as well.

They do, pretty much. Buy something for your Kindle device, and you can view it from anything else that can access your Kindle account: Mac, Windows, iPad, Android, and whatnot. I'm not a big fan of Amazon Kindle (which isn't a matter of standing on principle as much as I haven't got much use for it currently), but I admire the relatively liberal user privileges of the service.
posted by ardgedee at 11:29 AM on April 4, 2011


Artw: Interesting - I'd assumed they were just dragging along as a zombie company, but they are actually doing stuff?

Both have websites that appear to indicate they have existing systems set up to store and stream audio, and MP3Tunes even streams to 3rd party devices that aren't smart phones with apps. There was even a Music locker "prizefight" on Cnet Reviews back in August 2010, which notes that MP3Tune already has a "video capability." Neither came out as outstanding services, and the comments noted that 1) SD memory cards are getting cheap, and 2) many modern phones offer gigs of storage for audio. It'll be interesting to see how Amazon fares.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:32 AM on April 4, 2011


NOT AMAZON BLUE
Expand your complimentary 5GB to 20GB with the purchase of any album -- there's even some full albums (I bought Brian Eno's Neroli) for 99¢.

Dropbox is slick but will have to play catch-up with their pricing.
posted by porn in the woods at 11:37 AM on April 4, 2011


You upload your music one time and from then on you can stream your music—transcoded into a different format if necessary—to just about any device with an internet connection. No more syncing, no more format issues, no more repurchasing when a new format comes out. Once and done. That's got to really bother the RIAA.

If you've got a reasonable amount of bandwidth, you can do this for yourself right now. I store all my music as CUE/FLAC images (although separate FLACs would have been fine, in retrospect), and serve them with Squeezeboxserver. It has the ability to transcode on-the-fly to whatever bitrate and format I want, so I can stream from anywhere, just by opening a port. It's not as convenient as something like CloudDrive, but if you've got a reasonable clue, it's not that hard to do anymore. Upstream bandwidth is probably the biggest issue.

Someday, everyone in the US will be easily able to get 100Mbit both ways, instead of just in a few places. A cloud service, I think, will be less appealing when you'll be able to do so much from home.
posted by Malor at 11:38 AM on April 4, 2011


Expand your complimentary 5GB to 20GB with the purchase of any album

Note that this is only for the first year; Amazon charges about 14 cents per month per gig on S3. Presumably, CloudDrive is similar, so you'll start getting a monthly bill eventually. It's possible they may keep extending your year if you keep buying music, but there's no guarantees.

The overall plan could be to hook you on the idea, hoping that you'll start paying for the service, instead of learning how to do it yourself at home.
posted by Malor at 11:41 AM on April 4, 2011


If you've got a reasonable amount of bandwidth, you can do this for yourself right now. I store all my music as CUE/FLAC images (although separate FLACs would have been fine, in retrospect), and serve them with Squeezeboxserver. It has the ability to transcode on-the-fly to whatever bitrate and format I want, so I can stream from anywhere, just by opening a port.

I do the same with Subsonic. Love it.
posted by inigo2 at 11:44 AM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Uploading your files to Amazon's servers and redownloading or streaming them is a kind of format shifting.

Uploading and downloading the same file is not format shifting! It's making a copy, but making copies without distributing them to someone else is not a protected right of the copyright holder, so fair use is not needed. (presumably the digital store is key-locked to your account, so even amazon can't decrypt the files without your user/pass, same as the other storage systems, so you can't be argued to be distributing to them, either)

It's pretty hard to argue that streaming a given file is format shifting either, since it's the same bytes in the same codec format.

Format shifting is based on fair use, which means that it's a defense to infringement, not an explicitly defined right. The RIAA's theory is that any kind of format or time shifting is illegal copyright infringement until proven otherwise.

Even assuming it IS format shifting, they already tried that argument, and lost in the 9th circuit when the RIAA sued Diamond for allowing users to self-rip their own CDs to a MP3 player (the Rio) As the judge said, "Rio merely makes copies in order to render portable, or 'space-shift,' those files that already reside on a user’s hard drive.... Such copying is a paradigmatic noncommercial personal use."

I honestly don't see what leg the RIAA have to stand on here, as it's not public broadcasting either, only a given file to the owner of that file. The user has the right to format shift, and to make their own copies for noncommercial use, as long as they don't distribute them. It's not a fair-use defence - those rights are not enumerated as exclusive to the copyright holder in copyright law, and the courts have declined to add them, so there's no defence needed.

Storing a copy on an external drive and playing it from there is legal, whether it's an ipod drive, an external hard-disk or a network storage device. If that NAS happens to be on the internet for your own use (i.e. your own NAS), or on your own local LAN, or on a NAS provided by amazon or dropbox, I see no difference.

The content companies already got paid once, whether it was for the MP3 from amazon, or a CD that was self-ripped and uploaded. They can sod off with their double dipping.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:45 AM on April 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


Someday, everyone in the US will be easily able to get 100Mbit both ways, instead of just in a few places. A cloud service, I think, will be less appealing when you'll be able to do so much from home.

Because I want to deal with running my own file server, including configuring my router so I can access it, securing it, upgrading it when the disk is full or fails, doing offsite backups, ensuring it stays on and connected to the network 24/7, and everything else that comes with being a sysadmin why? My mom certainly doesn't want any part of that.

It's not like it is that hard to do this stuff yourself at home, though upstream bandwidth is a real limitation, but the vast majority of people aren't going to be interested unless it's all wrapped up in a nice neat package, and realistically that means cloud hosting.
posted by zachlipton at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Easy solution. Amazon either builds into their code an encryption layer or releases an API so I or another developer can build it. Devices can upload encrypted versions and decrypt the files as well. Amazon doesn't need to know what song the file is or even if the file is a song. Searching would be disabled for encrypted files, but I'd be willing to pay Amazon for this service if it existed and played well with my devices.

Honestly, how is streaming a file from a cloud setup any different then streaming it across my home network using a NAS device? Or is that considered infringement too?
posted by Crash at 12:00 PM on April 4, 2011


Amazon doesn't need to know what song the file is or even if the file is a song.

The record companies can come back and say that Amazon doesn't need to provide a player interface, in that case.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:02 PM on April 4, 2011


Honestly, how is streaming a file from a cloud setup any different then streaming it across my home network using a NAS device? Or is that considered infringement too?

I'm sure the RIAA would be happy to collect from you and will try as soon as they figure out how.
posted by birdherder at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think the RIAA needs to pull its sanctimonious head out of its collective ass and realize that technology has changed the game at least three substantial ways since the mid-90s (file-sharing, iTunes, and now cloud/streaming). They need to stop with the obstinate behavior, change their way outdated business plan, and learn to adapt. Because if they do not find a way to work with this it is going to kill them. I will not mourn the death of major record labels. And once Google, Apple, and the boys in Redmond WA get into the game they are well and truly fucked. They just do not have the money or muscle to play with those guys, let alone Amazon.
posted by Ber at 12:06 PM on April 4, 2011


Easy solution. Amazon either builds into their code an encryption layer or releases an API so I or another developer can build it. Devices can upload encrypted versions and decrypt the files as well. Amazon doesn't need to know what song the file is or even if the file is a song. Searching would be disabled for encrypted files, but I'd be willing to pay Amazon for this service if it existed and played well with my devices.

They did this. It's called S3. Supply whatever encryption and UI you wish, or use one of the myriad S3 clients already out there.
posted by zachlipton at 12:09 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I already have Subsonic and can stream the entirety of my iTunes library to my phone. Amazon (nevermind the record labels, who are welcome to diaf) aren't getting anything from me unless they come up with a much better value proposition (maybe pay me for the privilege of streaming my music to me)?
posted by mullingitover at 12:11 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dear Record Companies,

Amazon's offer to host my purchases for free and in perpetuity adds considerable value to your product, at no additional cost to you. In fact, this is almost certainly going to significantly increase the amount of music that I purchase. You asshats.
posted by schmod at 12:11 PM on April 4, 2011 [18 favorites]


Amazon is good and they let me shop for stuff without having to shlep across town. The RIAA is evil and awful and I want them to die.

Pretty clear-cut case, if you ask me.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:12 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dear Record Companies,

Amazon's offer to host my purchases for free and in perpetuity adds considerable value to your product, at no additional cost to you. In fact, this is almost certainly going to significantly increase the amount of music that I purchase. You asshats.


That is logic and it doesn't work with the RIAA. They're the same idiots that will mute or pull music (worldwide or geographically) from YouTube when they don't understand that the music bed in the cat video acts as a advertisement for the song.
posted by birdherder at 12:16 PM on April 4, 2011


One thing to note that at least Amazon's service doesn't make it completely convenient to engage is wholesale piracy. Subsonic makes it trivial for anyone to download any or all of my entire music collection, all I have to give them is a login and password. Every album page has a 'Download' link that gives up a zip of the album. Subsonic isn't alone, either. There are multiple web front-end apps for iTunes that make it very easy.
posted by mullingitover at 12:22 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks zachlipton. I was hoping amazon would do the heavy lifting, but looks like you called my bluff. Although I'm half serious about rolling up my sleeves and doing this, maybe I can get the kids at winamp or foo2000 to write the plug-in for me.
posted by Crash at 12:36 PM on April 4, 2011


A cloud service, I think, will be less appealing when you'll be able to do so much from home.

The appeal, for me anyway, is that it can serve as a "free" remote backup of my files as well. As it stands, 20GB is a little too small for my purposes, but if were to get bumped up to 40 or 50 geebees I'd be all over it.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:45 PM on April 4, 2011


Every album page has a 'Download' link that gives up a zip of the album.

I had thought that on subsonic that was something which can be toggled off.
posted by mikelieman at 12:48 PM on April 4, 2011


zachlipton: Because I want to deal with running my own file server, including configuring my router so I can access it, securing it, upgrading it when the disk is full or fails, doing offsite backups, ensuring it stays on and connected to the network 24/7, and everything else that comes with being a sysadmin why? My mom certainly doesn't want any part of that.

It's not like it is that hard to do this stuff yourself at home, though upstream bandwidth is a real limitation, but the vast majority of people aren't going to be interested unless it's all wrapped up in a nice neat package, and realistically that means cloud hosting.
I've been thinking a lot lately that there's a middle ground to be exploited here: the collective technological know-how is out there in various open source packages, not to mention employees/tech savants of the companies that do this professionally, to build "community" clouds that aren't huge, centralized, and corporate, yet are still slick and easy to use for 90% of users who aren't sophisticated computer users. For all I know, making a fully decentralized, open-source cloud client/server app that recreates what S3 et al offer has already been done, but if so I'm not aware of what it's called. There are things like Tor et al but they tend to be single global instances, and not systems that are focused on creating a geographically local cloud.

For example: I live in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle (the city where Amazon and MS are both HQ'ed, among other tech companies) where many people have reasonably fast always-on connections and spare drive space. If there was an open-source, slick-looking client which was easy to install we could create a neighborhood-wide cloud storage space. The average user installs a simple client in a few minutes, and it quietly uses some of their CPU cycles, bandwidth, and disk space to beef up the cloud further. They'd have a free online storage system that was faster (since the traffic wasn't crossing the country from some East Coast DC) and just as reliable as any pay online storage system.

Of course, the next logical step is that client interface would then offer what Amazon's doing, to the next level: like some Subsonic or MythTV for an entire neighborhood, where if you upload some mp3s or movie files to a shared segment in that cloud, they could then be accessible by others and in effect create a decentralized, non-corporate, not-for-profit local cloud to emulate the Rhapsody, Zune and Netflix et al services. While accessing your own files off this cloud would probably be as legit as what Amazon is doing, accessing other's files- or shared files- would be admittedly very copyright infringing. However, there'd be no company HQ to sue, and since users would also have a legitimate use case, it would make it harder to prove any given user was accessing or uploading all or part of a copyrighted file (since any shared movie file would be striped across many users' storage shards). Accessing a file that was a shared file you created and owned would be indistinguishable from accessing a file for which you were not the copyright holder.
posted by hincandenza at 1:15 PM on April 4, 2011


I've been thinking a lot lately that there's a middle ground to be exploited here: the collective technological know-how is out there in various open source packages, not to mention employees/tech savants of the companies that do this professionally, to build "community" clouds that aren't huge, centralized, and corporate, yet are still slick and easy to use for 90% of users who aren't sophisticated computer users. For all I know, making a fully decentralized, open-source cloud client/server app that recreates what S3 et al offer has already been done, but if so I'm not aware of what it's called. There are things like Tor et al but they tend to be single global instances, and not systems that are focused on creating a geographically local cloud.

Freenet is probably the closest available system of this sort (although it's global and not local, but many would call that a feature), but there are various reasons why it's hard for this to go mainstream. First of all, abuse and illegal activity is a considerable problem. Do most people want to anonymously host encrypted child pornography on their machines? That's a tough stumbling block to get over. On top of that, it's hard to trust in the system as a backup mechanism: if my disk goes down, will all the nodes with bits of my data still be up and running? It's also hard to get decent performance out of distributed file storage networks like this too, which is a particular problem for video and audio. Mobile access is even more tricky, as clients tend to start exceedingly slowly until they reach a suitable number of peers in the network. Finally, these systems can work decently well in the lab where everyone is behaving cooperatively, but it's hard to have a public distributed storage network that is resilient to abuse. What happens when your local script kiddie decides to shove terabytes of porn into your cloud, so you run out of space for the backup of your work documents?

There are things you can do to mitigate these problems to some extent, but fundamentally, it's a really hard task to do well, and as centrally hosted cloud storage prices get cheaper and cheaper, this kind of distributed system becomes increasingly less competitive.
posted by zachlipton at 1:33 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Every album page has a 'Download' link that gives up a zip of the album.

I had thought that on subsonic that was something which can be toggled off.


Yep -- it is a per-user setting (that defaults to Off when you create a new user, if I remember right).
posted by inigo2 at 2:02 PM on April 4, 2011


While not exactly what you're thinking of hincandenza, there is wuala; you get 1GB free in the 'cloud', and can buy extra storage as per usual.

The clever bit is you can trade storage for more storage for free; you can share up to 100GB off your computer, and the amount you share x the amount your computer is online is added to your cloud storage. So if you share 100GB space on your hard-drive, online for 70% of the time, you get 70GB free extra cloud storage. The filespace on your own computer is simply an encrypted data dump you don't have access to. So if you already have some form of always-on internet connection and home server or even just an always-on desktop PC, you can get a decent amount of cloud space to use for free.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:18 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why are the record companies so petty over something like this, but at the same time they still haven't sued Grooveshark into oblivion?

I mean, Grooveshark lets me stream just about any song for free. With Amazon's stuff, I have to pay them for access to each song, or upload my own copy. Yes, I can download it and put it on my iPod/iPhone with Amazon, but as mobile devices gain flash support (which is largely denied because of non-technical reasons on the iOS devices), it seems like that feature holds less clout.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:21 PM on April 4, 2011


flash support (which is largely denied because of non-technical reasons on the iOS devices)

[citation needed]
posted by kcds at 3:00 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just wish it weren't tied to the Amazon MP3 thing. I'd like to be able to dump my music on Amazon's server without being lashed to their player for download and playback.

Though, really I guess the ideal situation isn't just streaming, it's local storage. Dump my stuff up there, download what I want to listen to at the moment and listen to it without burning through bandwidth or needing a solid connection. Sprint is still legitimately unlimited, but the poor saps on AT&T or Verizon are gonna feel a pinch if they use this much.
posted by kafziel at 3:08 PM on April 4, 2011


flash support (which is largely denied because of non-technical reasons on the iOS devices)

[citation needed]


Well, Android has Flash support, as do 20 million smartphones and 35 devices. There are technical issues to be sure, but there is no practical reason why the iPhone doesn't have Flash besides the fact that Apple won't allow it. Do you really think that Adobe wouldn't have a working version of Flash Player on the iPhone if iOS were open source and they didn't need Apple's blessing?
posted by zachlipton at 3:09 PM on April 4, 2011


flash support (which is largely denied because of non-technical reasons on the iOS devices)

And largely denied because of technical reasons on the non-iOS devices. :)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:14 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


“Of course, not many music customers have the technical chops to achieve that perfect marriage of Lacie drive and Sonos.”

Hotel Technical Chop Suey: posted by mmrtnt at 3:17 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hotel Technical Chop Suey:


Or just (iTunesFS also works magic for Subsonic, since SS (aggravatingly) won't index based on ID3 tags. Point Subsonic at the iTunesFS Artists folder, et voila).
posted by mullingitover at 3:23 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


MPAA sues Zediva for streaming DVDs, no one is surprised
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on April 4, 2011


> Serve iTunesFS drive over FTP

That's a pretty nifty hack ... if you have a Mac and iTunes.

If not, I suppose you could use sshfs and mount your music dirs locally and point WMP or XMMS at it.

The Fuse FS is some cool juju.
posted by mmrtnt at 3:55 PM on April 4, 2011


It seems like everyone in Europe uses Spotify to stream any song at any time. Here in the US I buy the same service from Rhapsody. Surely that must be way of the future, no? The notion of owning rights to individual songs (on iTunes or in Amazon's Cloud Player) seems archaic to me.
posted by Triplanetary at 4:53 PM on April 4, 2011


Call when I can point the Cloud Drive to my 30 GB of MP3s that are already backed up on Amazon S3. I am not uploading all that again to Amazon.
I wonder if you could just copy it over.

The thing is, Amazon isn't doing anything that any other 'raw' hosting provider doesn't do. I can upload music to S3 or any web host and stream it from there. Which means basically the entire concept of web hosting is illegal, or the music industry wants it to be illegal to market web hosting services to ordinary users. Which is seriously fucked up, either way. I'm sure what they'd love is if every service were required to scan all uploaded files for content infringement.

I'm pretty sure Amazon is larger then the entire music industry combined. In other news Google purchased all of Nortel's patents for $900m, not because they want to stop anyone else from using them, but rather because they were worried someone else would buy them and harass google using them.

Our IP laws are seriously backwards.

Anyway its shit like this that makes me pirate music even though I can get it DRM free and everything now. I honestly don't want to support these assholes.

Also I have to say Amazon's web services in general are fucking awesome. They're insanely cheap. Like hosting for 10 cents a gigabyte per month with no minimum. You can literally get a 10-cent bill from them. You can really do some awesome stuff if you're a developer. I've used them for various stuff for years. Not even stuff I really need to do, but S3 makes an awesome way to, for example, share files or whatever. EC2 is great if you want to try setting up a server that's live on the net. And the storage cost is so low you don't even bother deleting stuff.
posted by delmoi at 5:09 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if you could just copy it over.

That's why I asked about an API. One could sniff the HTTP traffic, but if Amazon changes things on their end then things break more easily. An interface would make it easier to add reliable support for it to third-party cloud browsers, to exchange data between MobileMe, S3, etc.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:37 PM on April 4, 2011


Of course some gear doesn't have a USB port, but that technical (can be overcome) quibble aside, what are the disadvantages in making your USB stick the "Cloud" that you "link" to (by plugging it into your portable whatever)??

Apart from the obvious - you could lose the USB ... and your portable - instead I'm struggling to understand, once again, why "Cloud" is an advantage for anything but community-accessible files.
posted by Twang at 6:04 PM on April 4, 2011


To get a sense of where Amazon is placing its bets, go to its front page and look at how the "Shop All Departments" list in the top-left corner of the page is now organized into digital-download-via-Amazon and physical-object-via-Amazon categories...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:26 PM on April 4, 2011


mp3.com :(

When the plug got pulled it was like the internet had a stroke and lost a vast collection of memories about music. All the mp3.com artists moved on but all the track history, conversations, forums, artwork, the internal links, the outgoing links, the moment to moment relationships between the media, its creator, collaborators and fans recorded over several years was lost.

For a short period of time mp3.com was a place where all music of all types no matter how exotic or underground had a first class home and you could traverse it like wikipedia. So sad.
posted by vicx at 6:30 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Call when I can point the Cloud Drive to my 30 GB of MP3s that are already backed up on Amazon S3. I am not uploading all that again to Amazon.

Have Mechanical Turk do it.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:45 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Of course some gear doesn't have a USB port, but that technical (can be overcome) quibble aside, what are the disadvantages in making your USB stick the "Cloud" that you "link" to (by plugging it into your portable whatever)?? Apart from the obvious - you could lose the USB ... and your portable - instead I'm struggling to understand, once again, why "Cloud" is an advantage for anything but community-accessible files.

See the Pogoplug, a device that does precisely this. It's a box with a USB port and an Ethernet jack, along with the software to put your USB stick (or external HD) on the web and access it from elsewhere. (Disclaimer: I used to, but no longer do, have a small conflict of interest with Pogoplug. I'm not really recommending them, just saying they do what you're describing.)

It's a nifty product, but "cloud" is still an advantage for many people. With the Pogoplug, I have to have the box plugged in and turned on all the time, and I need my internet connection to be always available too. My file transfers are limited by my upstream bandwidth, which is usually a lot slower than my downstream, especially for home and small business users. The storage capacity is limited by the size of the attached USB drive, and if I want more space, I have to buy a new drive and set it up. There's also no built-in backup or redundancy to protect you if a drive fails or your house catches fire. "Cloud" storage avoids most of these problems. On the other hand, Pogoplug and other in-home file servers have the advantage that you control the device and your data, and you don't have to pay a service provider for storage and/or bandwidth.

So there are advantages to both, but there are plenty of advantages to the cloud approach that make it a better choice for some people. Personally, I don't keep much of my working files in cloud storage, but I do backup photos and other archival material to S3, because I can have them stored on highly redundant file servers for pennies a month.
posted by zachlipton at 6:54 PM on April 4, 2011


Or wait, maybe you just meant "carry a USB stick around and that's all your data wherever you go?"

I'd say the main objection is capacity: most of us don't have USB sticks that hold more than 16gb or so, and the cost gets really expensive as you get much larger than that. A lot of us have more music than that, and most people exceed that size when you start adding photos and videos. You also lose the ability to make some of your files available to others. Think Google Docs: part of the beauty is that you can share a document either read-only or for collaboration with just a couple clicks because the file is already "in the cloud."

And the obvious "lose the USB" is a really big problem, because most of us don't want our entire lives to be on our keychain. Sooner or later we'll lose it or it will break. That's inevitable. If that happens, I don't want to lose all my music and photos and files; I want a copy stored in my virtual safe deposit box online somewhere. That's what cloud storage gets you.
posted by zachlipton at 7:09 PM on April 4, 2011


And the obvious "lose the USB" is a really big problem, because most of us don't want our entire lives to be on our keychain. Sooner or later we'll lose it or it will break. That's inevitable. If that happens, I don't want to lose all my music and photos and files; I want a copy stored in my virtual safe deposit box online somewhere. That's what cloud storage gets you.
The problem is you give up privacy for resilience. If you're just using a raw block device that you can put encrypted files on (which amazon is happy to sell you) then you get the best of both worlds. But the problem for me with cloud storage is bandwidth. If you have a couple terabytes of stuff, then uploading becomes problematic if you're not living in South Korea.
posted by delmoi at 9:17 PM on April 4, 2011


All irrelevant to me. Wake me up, when there's a system out there that can handle my music collection: 4TB. Until then, whatever - it's a yawn.
posted by VikingSword at 11:29 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apart from the obvious - you could lose the USB

This. You wouldn't believe the amount of students and staff that come to me with a dead USB stick in a panic, because their only copies of some crucial files are on it. Yes, they could have kept a copy on their laptop or whatever, but it's just so easy to work on the usb key version wherever you are, and save changes. I'll back it up later, I promise.

Oh dear. It's all gone. FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU.

Cloud storage is cheap, it's simple, you can access your stuff from anywhere on anything that has a web-browser, and quite a few have local sync too; so I have dropbox keeping my key files in sync between various computers, and I don't need to think about it. Edit files directly in there, and they're automagically available on my laptop, my desktop, my work pc, etc. Or I can get them from anywhere with a browser.

If you have a couple terabytes of stuff

Yeah, cloud storage (and bandwidth) isn't *that* cheap yet. Still, if you can afford that much space, you can afford it twice and backup to disk :)
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:35 PM on April 4, 2011


All irrelevant to me. Wake me up, when there's a system out there that can handle my music collection: 4TB. Until then, whatever - it's a yawn.

In the three and a half years straight it will take you to listen to that, assuming it's all topped out at 320kbs, there will be.
posted by kafziel at 12:09 AM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


MPAA sues Zediva for streaming DVDs, no one is surprised

My favourite bit is they're suing zediva on the basis that zediva buying a DVD, and a DVD player, and then letting you rent that specific physical DVD individual stream on demand over the internet to one computer instead of, say, through the post, is a public performance, and thus requires additional licences.

I wish I had what they're smoking.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:13 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you really think that Adobe wouldn't have a working version of Flash Player on the iPhone
For what value of "working"? All the Android Flash demos I've seen have been talking dogs.

As for this service, it's interesting but it comes up against the usual problem for me: I don't need it at my desktop, and when I'm on the go it is plagued by the sort of bandwith/cost/connection issues that make Spotify touch-and-go on the move too.
posted by bonaldi at 9:22 AM on April 5, 2011


In the three and a half years straight it will take you to listen to that, assuming it's all topped out at 320kbs, there will be.

It's apple lossless, and as I'm sure you know, that's not how it works - you don't listen to everything once, you pick and choose depending on mood and circumstance, which is why I need access to the entire 4TB, even if I will only listen to a fraction of this within any given time period.

And you think in 3-4 years there'll be such a solution? Also, I've noticed this shiny new future often has a way of getting postponed - how long has it been, for example, that the iPod Classic's capacity was stuck at 120-160GB? In some ways we're going back - the Touch, which is what I carry these days, tops out at a measly 64GB, even less than my wife's Classic. Technology doesn't always march forward in a straight line, sometimes it's two steps forward one step back.

So, yes, eventually it'll get there, but who knows when - and in any case that does me no good today.
posted by VikingSword at 11:03 AM on April 5, 2011


come to me with a dead USB stick in a panic, because their only copies of some crucial files are on it.

OK, guess I should have added *backup* to my list of 'obvious'.

I've never had a stick die, if it's that common then clearly personal storage options need an upgrade. As for the privacy question someone raised: did you hear a couple of days ago that BILLIONS of personal records "in the cloud" were compromised *again*? My USB stick on a lanyard is a helluva lot more secure than your data in the hands of someone who *doesn't care* about your security.

This to me is the fundamental objection to keeping things (that aren't collaborative) on "the cloud". You're relying on fallible humans -other than you- to keep your data safe. Is it cheap? Maybe. Is it quick? Maybe. Is it safe? Very doubtful. Once you upload it, you have no idea where it's going to go.

Fine and good for replaceable music files. But for anything that's -really important-?? I'm not sold.
posted by Twang at 1:53 PM on April 5, 2011


MGE UPS Systems v. GE Consumer, baby.

I store all my music as CUE/FLAC images (although separate FLACs would have been fine, in retrospect), and serve them with Squeezeboxserver.

...

I do the same with Subsonic. Love it.

It might require iTunes (or WMP or something), but I do the same with Audiogalaxy a nice little service from streaming music from one machine to other computers. phones, or tablets. It works remarkably well over 3G for me.

I shall have to try Subsonic, tho ...

SS (aggravatingly) won't index based on ID3 tags.

... or not.

It seems like everyone in Europe uses Spotify to stream any song at any time. Here in the US I buy the same service from Rhapsody. Surely that must be way of the future, no?

But do those systems provide enough compensation to artists? It doesn't seem so.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:06 PM on April 7, 2011


But do those systems provide enough compensation to artists? It doesn't seem so.

More succinctly, check out the graphs for Pandora, Last.fm, or Spotify.

As a business model, that does not seem sustainable to me. I'd take my chances streaming on my own site (or free via MySpace or SoundCloud), monetizing with ads, and incentivizing loyal fans to buy hard copies, special releases, and other merchandise.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:18 PM on April 7, 2011


mrgrimm: ... or not.

I should clarify, Subsonic doesn't use id3 tags for navigation by design. Which is incredibly frustrating if your folders aren't in ship-shape and you're one of the majority who use some kind of id3 database for navigating your music collection.

This is fix'd by using iTunesFS and pointing Subsonic at the Artists folder. Still pretty annoying.
posted by mullingitover at 3:58 PM on April 7, 2011


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