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Roach Motel For Your Music (The New DRM Threat)

An insidious new plot to wrestle control of your personal music library is underway. Like a roach motel where insects check in but they can never check out, a new music service is using the same strategy with your personal song library. Big music loves this crafty idea and has backed the company with tens of millions of dollars, but if you want to enjoy your music wherever you like on whatever device you have you should resist the urge to enter the motel.

The new service is called Lala (see: Renting Songs for 10 cents) and it entices music fans by offering to "fuse" their music "with a massive licensed catalog" where you can play each song one time. To participate you just need to upload all the tracks from your personal library. What's not obvious is that Lala then controls what you can do with your own music once it's uploaded. There's no way to download songs, listen on a mobile phone, sync it to another device or listen on any device except your PC. Your music will be controlled by Lala and will eventually vanish, because no company lasts forever.

Battle Over Your Media Locker
Record Label Locker (Lala) Consumer Locker (MP3tunes)
Uploads Yes Yes
Downloads No Yes
Syncing No Yes
Mobile Phone No Yes
Open to support all devices No Yes
API for all software platforms (incl. Linux) No Yes
Industry Response $20,000,000 Lawsuit

It's curious why Lala would be so restrictive about how you can listen to your own music collection since many of the Lala employees are big music fans. (Their company started as a CD swapping service.) The reason for the lockdown becomes clearer when you realize that Lala has got licenses and tens of millions of dollars from the major labels.

As part of this this deal with the devil, Lala was forced to add restrictions to their service that block commonplace digital music activities, such as downloading and mobile access. Record labels actually believe they should be getting paid for every download, which is why they won't permit Lala to do downloads - even ones from your own personal collection. Labels also believe they should be paid again for listening to songs on mobile phones, which is why mobile access is blocked on Lala.

While the music industry has allowed Apple to remove DRM from itunes files, they are demanding that Lala embed DRM into their servers. Lala is intentionally designed to block even the most basic user interactions making it defective by design. By limiting accessibility, the industry ultimately controls what devices you listen to music on, and can elect to repeatedly charge you when you listen to music in different locations. Instead of owning your music you are renting it. In this new world the labels are so desperately seeking to create, they are the landlords of your music collection, can charge repeatedly for it, and wantonly alter the rules under which you can use it, even removing your music on a whim.

The cornerstone of the competing MP3tunes locker service is the consumer's right to use their media anyway they like for their personal needs. This means the consumer dictates the devices (PC, mobile, net radio, set top box, etc) and formats for their property. There's also an open API which means other companies or individuals can build locker support into other devices or software, giving you unlimited access to your music. Obviously, this position does not endear MP3tunes with the record labels and that is the reason they are suing us. (see: All Your Music Are Belong To Us)

Since I am the CEO of MP3tunes some might accuse me of not being objective, but this isn't a new marketing ploy to advocate for the consumer. I have a long track record of publicly speaking out against the dangers of DRM even when this meant missing out on business opportunities. When I was CEO of, I had several lucrative offers to abandon MP3 and adopt DRM formats, but I always turned them down because DRM robs consumers of their rights.

Today if MP3tunes were to agree to employ server DRM to restrict consumer's actions, we could likely secure financial backing and marketing from the media companies. The additional finances would give us the ability to hire additional engineers, buys ads and marketing and hire full time PR people to get media coverage as Lala has done. However, I will not sell the consumer out.

Like all good traps Lala has enticing bait - a massive song library where you can listen to most any song one time for free. Admittedly this is a handy resource, however taking this bait will ensnare your personal music collection where it will eventually die. Don't fall for the alluring, but ultimately deadly deal of server DRM. Instead give your business to services which put the power in the hands of the consumer to control their own content.


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