Amazon puts music into the cloud
It’s huge in books, makes the leading e-reader, and sells a lot of CDs and DVDs - now Amazon has made a bold play to become the biggest thing in streamed music. The big question is how the e-tailing giant has picked its way through the music rights minefield to launch ahead of its rivals.
Amazon’ s new service is called Cloud Drive, and it gives anyone who signs up 5Gb of space to store their music - or videos, or any other files, if you are so minded. Online storage is nothing new - look at services like Dropbox and Evernote or even Soundcloud, which is an online store for audio files. And streaming music businesses - from Spotifty to last.fm - have been around for a while too.
What it does allow you to do is stream music you already own to any computer or Android phone - though not to Apple devices - for free. Spotify lets you do that too, but only if you’re a paying customer handing over £10 a month.
But Spotify has not arrived yet in the US - it’s still involved in painful negotiations with the labels. And in any case it is not the rival that Amazon will have had in mind when launching Cloud Drive. Two other digital media giants, Apple and Google, are both rumoured to be on the verge of launching cloud-based music services.
But now Amazon has got in first, offering a service which could deliver a one-stop shop for music fans - buy an MP3 from its online store, upload it to your cloud drive, and then have access to it and all your other music wherever you go. Unless, of course, you want to listen on an Apple device – unsurprisingly - there is no iPhone or iPad app for the Amazon cloud service.
Wanting to see how it worked, I went to amazon.com this morning, installed cloud drive on my home computer, uploaded an album I had stored in iTunes, drove to work, and then listened to it on my office PC. I then found out that the service is restricted to US customers, so I’m not entirely sure how I managed to get access - and Amazon UK couldn’t explain either.
The reason other cloud services have been slow to take off - and why Amazon’s music cloud may not arrive in the UK for a while - is the thorny issue of copyright and licensing. Amazon is saying there are no licensing issues in the United States because copying your own files to the cloud is no different from putting them on an external drive. You’ve already paid for that song - so why should clicking on it from another computer earn the artist more money or infringe copyright in any way?
But in the UK, Amazon’s lawyers may be casting their eyes over a couple of tricky issues. First, there’s the fact that the legal position in the UK about the right to copy music - or even burn a CD - is still pretty hazy. Then there are the provisions in the Digital Economy Act, which was designed to combat illegal file-sharing. If and when that controversial law is actually implemented, the use of so-called web lockers - which the record industry says are often used for piracy - could become tricky. And what is Cloud Drive if not a web locker?
The kind of service that Amazon is offering has been possible for years - what’s surprising is that it has taken so long to arrive. But a combination of legal uncertainty and record label wariness is still making digital innovation a slow and wearisome business in the music industry.