No Record Label Licences? No Problem it seems for Google’s Music Locker

Danny Titolo is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Google has officially entered the online music storage and streaming field. The service is called Music Beta by Google, and allows users to upload music libraries to a personal storage locker online. From this storage locker or cloud, users can then download or stream music files from various Internet-connected devices.

Music Beta is quite similar to Amazon’s Cloud Drive that was launched recently. There are differences between the two services with the most notable being Google’s limitations. Music Beta is currently available only to users in the United States and by invite-only. Priority invitations are given to those who attended the recent I/O conference in San Francisco and owners of the Motorola Xoom tablet. There is also a limitation on the number of songs that can be uploaded to the music locker. Like Amazon’s Cloud Drive, the service is free; however, there have been no indications whether or not pricing options are planned.

Google’s music service is currently not a direct threat to iTunes as subscribers cannot purchase music. The main reason being is that Google has yet to obtain any licensing agreements with major music labels. These licenses are essential if Google is to officially enter the music selling business. With Google being hit recently with lawsuits from the computer industry, it is clear they want to avoid any from the music industry.

Zahavah Levine, Director of Content Partnerships at Google, has been at the helm of these licence negotiations and feels that some music labels are being unreasonable. Levine stated that a couple of major labels are demanding “unreasonable and unsustainable business terms.” For now, Music Beta will have to settle for being solely a music storage service.

The lack of record label licences places further limitations on the music service. Music Beta cannot be viewed as a locker for file back-up storage. Once a user has uploaded a song, the file can only be streamed and not re-downloaded. Google is arguably trying to avoid potential lawsuits. Susan Kevorkian, Research Director at IDC, stated that “re-downloading could make Google liable for copyright infringement if individual users allow others to have access to those re-downloadable files.” If re-downloading is permitted without the necessary licences, Music Beta would be comparable to other file-sharing services such as Napster and Limewire.

Clearly Music Beta is currently not what it was intended to be; however, Google is still moving full speed ahead. This is demonstrated by the launch of Google’s new music player application, Google Android 3.1, which can be used to play music stored on Android devices. Some features of Music Beta include instant mixing, which is the creation of a playlist based on just one song. The song is analyzed and the service locates similar music from the library and creates a playlist. Furthermore, transferring music files among devices is unnecessary. Music Beta automatically syncs music across the users’ devices.     

Google’s music service has received its fair share of criticism. The majority of the criticism stems from the fact that users cannot purchase music which makes it inferior to Amazon’s Cloud Drive. These set-backs, however, are due to legal issues which can arguably be settled in time. That being said, Google definitely must act quickly to perfect its cloud music service since competition will be fierce once Apple unveils one of its own.

  1. In one of the Billboard articles Levine particularly mentions a failure to innovate on the part of the record labels. Do you have any more details on the negotiations for licencing agreements and the parties’ respective motives?

  2. Although the negotiations are behind closed doors and nobody knows all of the exact details, it is certainly a money issue. Google does not want to pay the licensing rates that the four major record labels are asking. The four record labels I am referring to are EMI Music, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and the Warner Music Group.

    Interestingly, these music labels want Google to sign licensing agreements and are hoping that Apple will be the driving force. Apple will be launching their own cloud-based music service; however, it will be a licensed version. Which means that it will be superior to Google’s Music Beta. The music labels feel that Music Beta’s inferiority will force Google back to the negotiating table and agree to broader licensing deals.

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