Watermarks Could Rain on Cloud Music Locker Parade

Music publishers are none too pleased with Amazon's decision to launch a music locker service where anyone can store up to 5GB of MP3s and stream them back over any internet-connected computer or Amazon's Cloud Player Android app, without a cent going either to Amazon or copyright holders.

In a letter to Amazon last week, National Music Publishers' Association general counsel Jay Rosenthal wrote (according to the NY Post):

Of specific concern are serious issues, among others, that have been raised regarding lax privacy protections and the failure to include filtering components that would otherwise identify illegal music files placed in a user's locker.

About these "filtering components": There's no way for a music locker service to know whether a music file was purchased legitimately, ripped from the user's own CD, downloaded from bit torrent, or poached via sneakernet.

But there is one not-so-obvious way for Amazon to discern whether a given MP3 was purchased from its own store: the watermarks that I confirmed that some record labels were laying into each MP3 sold there, starting with the very first one. Those watermarks don't identify which user bought the file, but they do specify that a given file was purchased from the Amazon MP3 store.

Apple went even further, embedding the purchaser's uniquely-identifying user ID in each "DRM-free" song purchased from iTunes. And last March, Universal Music Group, the world's biggest record label, released a reference implementation for embedding unique identifiers in music files, with ostensibly the same thing in mind.

Publishers and other concerned parties can't force music lockers wave a magic wand in order to only allow legitimately-ripped music into music lockers, because that wand doesn't exist.

However, they could file a not-so-magic lawsuit forcing Apple, Amazon, Google, and other current and future music locker services to allow only watermarked songs purchased from a "legitimate" music store to be stored there.

If that happens, users will lose the ability to upload music from CDs they ripped themselves, downloaded from MP3 blogs that had full permission to distribute a given song, and other legitimate use cases.

That said, music lockers wouldn't be the first baby to have been thrown out with the bathwater. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Nicholas_T)

Watermarks Could Rain on Cloud Music Locker ParadeEvolver.fm observes, tracks and analyzes the music apps scene, with the belief that it's crucial to how humans experience music, and how that experience is evolving.