In a new move by MP3.com, users can listen to CDs they already own, via streaming audio from any computer connected to the Internet. In addition, they can instantly hear any disc they buy from an affiliated retailer. The deal was all over the press, but few captured the problems inherent in the scheme. As Reuters explained, using MP3's new Beam-it software, "songs from a user's personal music collection that match those in MP3.com's database of 40,000 disks, are transferred to an MP3.com account from those disks. The user can then access the password-protected account, instantly playing, or 'streaming,' the songs via software like Winamp or RealPlayer."
But really, who would want to listen to CDs they already own via RealPlayer, which is full of interruptions even for listeners with high-speed connections?
And how can MP3.com's 40,000 CD library encompass everyone's "entire CD library?" Few bothered to ask.
The second part of the deal, which allows listeners to hear discs moments after they buy them, also went largely unscrutinized. Sure, no one likes to wait for a new album to arrive in the mail, and immediate digital music purchases are surely the wave of the future. But MP3.com's partners in the scheme are B-list retailers like Junglejeff.com, Duffelbag.com and Cheap-CDs.com - hardly market dominators.
Still, the media criticized the plan on other fronts. CNET quoted an anonymous executive "at a major online retailer," who said many retailers were "apparently wary of potential copyright problems that could result from legal action taken by the recording industry." The executive told CNET, "It's an offensive move toward all the labels."
The AP was one of few outlets to raise privacy issues, noting that MP3.com's "main thrust is to discover which artists a Web surfer enjoys, and other nuggets of demographic data." Do you really want MP3.com's marketing department to know about it, every time you play your favorite song?