Apple’s Online Music Locker: A Great Idea (That’s 10+ Years Old)

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In case you hadn’t noticed, this whole online music thing is heating up. First Amazon rolled out its Cloud Player, then Google Music came along, and now Apple is expected to announce its own online music service—the big money’s on something called “iCloud” that’ll be unveiled on June 6th.

The difference between Apple’s offering and offerings from both Amazon and Google is that Apple has apparently gotten the blessing of three of the four major record labels, with the fourth said to be right around the corner. But why should Apple care about playing nice with the record labels when Google and Amazon have already thumbed their noses at the music industry?

If what Businessweek is reporting turns out to be accurate, Apple’s service will behave differently than Google’s and Amazon’s in that you won’t have to actually upload your entire music collection to Apple’s servers.

Says Businessweek:

“Armed with licenses from the music labels and publishers, Apple will be able to scan customers’ digital music libraries in iTunes and quickly mirror their collections on its own servers, say three people briefed on the talks. If the sound quality of a particular song on a user’s hard drive isn’t good enough, Apple will be able to replace it with a higher-quality version. Users of the service will then be able to stream, whenever they want, their songs and albums directly to PCs, iPhones, iPads, and perhaps one day even cars. And the music industry gets a chance at the next best thing after selling shrink-wrapped CDs: monthly subscription fees, à la Netflix (NFLX) and the cable companies.”

Sounds awesome, right? Magical, even. It’s also an idea that’s been around for over 10 years.

Old-timers like me (people in their—GASP!—30′s) may remember MP3.com and a very cool feature of the site called “My.MP3.com” that let you do pretty close to what Apple’s reportedly getting set to offer, but with physical CDs.

MP3.com was started by Michael Robertson, who made the record labels’ short-list of public enemies with the My.MP3.com feature when it was rolled out in 2000. You’d pop a CD you owned into your computer, it’d get referenced against MP3.com’s servers, and you’d then get 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 MP3.com, won, and MP3.com settled with UMG for over $53 million.

Robertson now runs MP3tunes.com, 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’ music locker concept facilitates piracy.

And therein lies the rub for Apple—and people who use Apple’s service.

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