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Music Licenses in the Cloud

As we move everything to the cloud, licensing issues around internet-based services have come to the forefront. In this context, it may be worthwhile to examine a few of them in relation to a few cloud based multimedia services currently being offered to consumers.

Cloud based music services

Recently, Google and Amazon announced separate ‘digital locker services’, which allows users to manage and play music using the internet. The service allows each registered user to upload a personal music library to a private storage locker. Once uploaded, these files can be streamed or downloaded from any internet-enabled device such as a smartphone or tablet. The objective appears to be to boost sales of songs and videos from their respective App Stores. In that light, it makes sense for Amazon to offer the 20 GB of free storage that it currently does (for one year), along with automatic syncing if tracks are purchased from the Amazon store.

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While this covers the ‘storage’ component of the service, it also includes the functionality of ‘playing’ music on the go. using the Amazon Cloud Player application for example. This would, in effect, allow a user to stream a particular song on a phone over the internet, even if that song has not been locally stored on the phone. The issue here is fairly straightforward: does this feature require an additional licenses from the owner of copyright (in this case, the music companies)

Do you require a licenses to stream songs?

Under Indian law, the owners of copyright are granted certain exclusive rights under Section 14 of the Copyright Act. Some, or all of these rights can be licensed to another individual or company for a certain fee. In this case, the music labels might argue that the functionality of streaming music from a digital locked was not contemplated under the original licensing agreement. Therefore, a new license specific to the act of streaming would have to be obtained. It would appear that many songs uploaded to such digital locker services are tracks that have been previously purchased legally from one of the many app stores (iTunes Store for example) or otherwise ripped from legally purchased CD’s. In such a case, any additional license to play the track on a phone or tablet seems moot. Quite simply, device-shifting should be permissible without having to obtain an additional license.

What are music companies worried about?

The labels have argued that this would allow illegally acquired tracks to be uploaded and streamed as well. While this is certainly a cause for concern, the presumption of illegality is unfair to users who have legally acquired CD’s or digital copies of songs. There is also a technical barrier since they do not have ‘unique digital receipts’ (no valid proof of purchase) that would legitimise them. The other concern is that users will sync and stream songs from each others’ digital lockers. Their demand is that each user must designate a certain device or devices from which they will be allowed to upload songs. Aside from the practical considerations, one is reminded of the failed attempt at Digital Rights Management to even consider such a suggestion to be feasible. Lastly, the labels argue that users can make multiple accounts and sell them to other users. This seems improbable and again assumes that users want to violate the basic Terms and Conditions of a website.

Additional licenses are not necessary

Cloud storage v. Local Storage: Is there really a difference between uploading a song to Google Drive or DropBox and doing the same with Amazon’s Cloud Service? If one were to back up a legally purchased song on to a USB drive that doubles as a music player, presumably no other licenses are required.

Terms and Conditions prohibit piracy: The terms of service make it clear that it does not encourage or promote piracy. The mere apprehension that users will upload unauthorised content should in no way prevent allow labels to stop such services from coming into existence.

This is such another example of music companies being unable or at the very least unwilling to adapt to the digital age with innovation in the delivery and consumption of multimedia services. The labels’ case will hinge on whether they can adequately demonstrate that the license to sell music online does not come with the license to allow users to store and stream personal libraries as well.  Here’s hoping the Indian music companies are receptive to change and negotiate licensing deals as early as possible.

(Image from Taqri85)

This post was first published on SpicyIP.

About Amlan Mohanty

Amlan is a lawyer based in India. He engages in research, writing, speaking and teaching at the intersection of technology, law and policy.