music.jpgSan Diego – Major music labels achieved a major victory in the copyright wars when, in May, Limewire agreed to pay $105 million to settle a copyright infringement suit.  As federal copyright laws have become much stricter and the entertainment industry much more litigious against infringement, many saw this victory as an end of a decade-long era of the illegal piracy of music on peer-to-peer online networks.

The copyright war, however, is not over for the music industry.  A new threat has reared itself to record labels, forcing them to shift their attention to the new, cloud-based “music-locker” services currently offered by Apple, Amazon, and Google.  The new cloud services have been created for users of smartphones and other mobile media devices.  Users will have the ability to upload their digital music files to remote Web services for immediate access anytime, anywhere and on any device.

The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has responded by claiming that the new cloud-based model still requires the copying of copyrighted content, which will require valid licenses.  Unconvinced that the cloud services will prevent users from illegally swapping music, RIAA general counsel Steven Marks stated, “For some services, the term ‘cyber-locker’ is a misnomer because the content is not locked.  These services have the potential to become hubs for illegal distribution.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation’s intellectual property directory Corynne McSherry disagreed, stating, “You don’t need a license for simply providing storage for people to upload their music.”  She added, “That’s silly.  They [RIAA] want to wring every possible cent out of every reproduction of music.  That’s listening to your lawyers and not your business people.”

While Amazon and Google both unveiled their cloud services without the blessing of the music industry, Apple took a different approach.  While Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Google’s Music Beta require users to upload files manually in a time-consuming process, the Apple iCloud scans the music files on a user’s computer and, for those it recognizes, grants the user access to identical copies stored in Apple’s central database.  Unrecognized files can be uploaded to an iCloud server. 

Apple didn’t announce its new service until June, after negotiating deals with the four biggest record labels that will give them a combined 70 percent of revenue generated from iCloud.  The service costs $24.95 for unlimited storage.  The RIAA has acknowledged the fact that iCloud has created a more user-friendly service that will attempt to compensate music-makers for their copyrighted work, however it maintains that Apple needs a license because it is making copies of music for its central database.

The major music labels have not commented on whether they plan on filing a complaint against Amazon and Google over the cloud services.  A top executive with one label who wished to remain anonymous, said that he predicts that Amazon will negotiate a licensing deal so that it can offer a scan-and-match service similar to Apple’s.  Google is also reportedly in talks over a licensing deal.