I used to joke
that every company founded by Michael Robertson had a very simple "marketing plan": get sued by someone big. So many of his startups ended up in lawsuits with big names, which helped generate even more attention for them. But, of course, part of the reason for that is that he continually stretches the technology to do what it obviously can and should be able to do, well before the law (and legacy companies) adapt to handle such things. It's why many people have been pointing out that for all the hype around Apple's new "Music Match" service, it sounds remarkably like what Robertson did a decade ago with MP3.com.
Speaking of Robertson and lawsuits, Robertson's MP3tunes.com is still engaged in its big legal fight
with EMI, which may help determine the legality of online music locker services, but Robertson clearly isn't waiting around for that. Built on top of MP3tunes.com, he's also launched DAR.fm
, which is effectively an online DVR for all internet audio/radio. You can just set up what you want to record, and the site records it and stores it in an MP3tunes locker. At first I didn't think there was all that much interesting here -- the world already has podcasts, and did it really need a way to record online radio separately? However, things get a bit more interesting when you dig into the details, and you realize there's an interesting copyright situation... and a potential lawsuit waiting to happen.
As David Pogue pointed out in his review of DAR.fm
, beyond just recording
the shows, it has an interesting feature:
Actually, maybe this part is even better: Many radio stations transmit the names of the songs and bands they’re playing. DAR.fm captures that information and detects song breaks. In other words, if you record a day or so of a music station, you’ve suddenly got a tidy list of songs, identified (and sortable) by title or band. You can listen to individual songs, skip the turkeys and otherwise enjoy your totally free song collection. It’s crazy cool, like a hybrid of iTunes and satellite radio.
Of course, there have been desktop software products that have done the same thing for ages. But automatically dumping the mp3s into a music locker, which -- unlike the Google's
music locker that have launched recently -- actually lets you download the mp3s in your locker, is something the labels surely won't like. In fact, lots of folks are predicting that lawsuits are on the way
Internet entrepreneur Michael Robertson has just launched his own economic stimulus program. He’s going to provide jobs for a lot of lawyers.
That’s because Robertson has created a new online service called DAR.fm, which delivers a new way to listen to Internet radio streams. DAR.fm is a digital recorder for audio streams, capturing your favorite Internet radio shows whenever they’re broadcast so you can listen to them later. It works, it’s wonderful, and it’s very possibly doomed, because the world’s leading music recording companies will probably come after it with every attorney they have.
But, here's the thing: does such a service actually infringe? It's pretty clearly established that basic time shifting, such as with a TiVo, is considered legal. Separately, with the Second Circuit's Cablevision ruling
(and the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the appeal), many consider the idea of a remote DVR to now be legal as well.
What it really comes down to is that such a service has the potential to upset
the record labels (and radio broadcasters as well), but that, by itself, shouldn't be illegal. Instead this is Robertson demonstrating, yet again, what the technology makes possible, even if it's disruptive to those who don't realize that the distinction between a stream and a download and local and remote storage is basically irrelevant in an era of widespread broadband connectivity. But, being disruptive and demonstrating the power of technology doesn't make you immune from lawsuits... and judges often aren't so savvy on these issues.