MobileMe iDisk App Update Brings Streaming Music Support, Legal Questions

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If you’re a MobileMe subscriber and use Apple’s cloud-based iDisk service, the latest mobile version allows you to stream music files from your storage space directly to your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. That update was pushed out about a month ago and made some headlines as people began to ponder whether Apple was paving the way for its rumored cloud-based iTunes service.

While the current iDisk music streaming capability is relatively limited—one file at a time, no playlists, no album art, etc.—digital music pioneer Michael Robertson points out that the legal aspects of such a feature are the bigger part of the story:

“One company sure to be miffed at this new capability is Universal Music Group (UMG) the world’s largest music company. They have told net companies who have inquired about offering personal cloud music services that backing up and downloading music files is OK with limitations, but streaming music files requires entering into a license and paying a per stream fee. Apple’s service allows unlimited sharing (no username or password required) and now background streaming – all without a license from the record labels.”

Robertson knows a thing or two about miffed music companies. He started back in 1997 and in 2000 added a very, very cool feature called wherein you’d pop a CD you owned into your computer, it’d get referenced against’s servers, and you’d have instant access to a streaming version of your album directly through the site.

Universal Media Group did NOT like this idea one bit and sued, won, and settled with UMG for over $53 million. Robertson now runs, a cloud-based music storage service that allows you to upload your music files to its servers for streaming playback on computers and portable devices. This has drawn the ire of EMI, which claims that MP3tunes’ “personal music locker” concept facilitates piracy.

The issue boils down to the streaming music license. You pay a set rate to download a song to keep on your hard drive forever and a different, lesser rate if you want to stream a song from a server somewhere. The music industry apparently doesn’t like the idea of people storing and streaming songs that they’ve either purchased or obtained through other, less legal means without paying for the privilege of having access to those songs from any internet-connected device, according to Roberson.

“Behind the scenes Apple is battling the record labels over licensing issues related to their future cloud based iTunes music service. Their recent actions are defying UMG’s position that any streaming service requires a license. Apple’s actions are testing the limits about what they can do without record labels protesting. If they can store files online and stream them to PCs and portable devices without a license that is the foundation for a cloud based iTunes service. More rounds in this heavy weight battle are sure to be played out in the future especially as our own MP3tunes legal case moves to conclusion and courts decide what online companies can do without a license.”

More on Techland:

Apple’s Unannounced Lala Implementation Delayed

Mobile Music Streaming Service ‘mSpot’ Goes Live on Android

Google’s Rumored Music Store and Why It Just Might Work