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Amazon puts music into the cloud

Rory Cellan-Jones | 14:51 UK time, Tuesday, 29 March 2011

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.

Babies listening to music


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 - 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 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    I use ZumoCast on my iPhone and it does much the same thing. Works perfectly on Wifi (or LAN - there is a desktop client too) and is pretty good on 3G.

  • Comment number 2.

    The UK legal situation is pretty clear to be honest. If you create a copy without authorisation (i.e. ripping a CD, uploading to a "web locker" or creating a backup) it's an infringing copy.

    The UK's copyright law is, quite frankly, not fir for purpose. But the copyright maximalists (such as the record labels) would have you believe otherwise.

  • Comment number 3.

    The question is...Is the internet an ice-age or a winter?

    If it is a winter, the dinosaurs of the "publishing and distribution of information industries" only have to hang on for a bit, and can go back to "profits as normal" when the internet goes away again, and we all revert to buying books and CD's.

    If amount of manipulating of the market is going to maintain their price structure, since for the foreseeable future they are selling virtually zero-cost products.

  • Comment number 4.

    Cory Doctorow put it most succinctly when he said 'It's never going to get any harder to copy a CD than it is now' - pirates already do their thing and record companies need to adapt to survive and work with UK legislators to re-define fair usage so that us law abiding citizens can utilize the technology available to enjoy the music they produce. The very idea that I could legally purchase an album on Amazon's website and commit a criminal infringement by backing it up using the very same company's service is a totally ludicrous. Hopefully the launch of these kind of services by such iconic web companies as Amazon will pave the way to this happening.

  • Comment number 5.

    All this highlights is how much more sensible the US copyright law is than ours.
    There are so many grey and ill-defined areas in our current copyright legislation that it beggars belief: I just found out that if I paint a picture, and a photographer takes a photo of it (whether I commission the photographer to do so or not), the copyright in the image belongs to the photographer and not to me. The photographer is then free to do what they like with the image of my art, sell prints etc, and I can't do a thing to prevent it. On the other hand, if I paint a picture and use a photograph as reference, it seems the photographer can sue me for infringement of copyright! One would think the lawyers who drew up the legislation only consulted photographers, and not any other creatives...

  • Comment number 6.

    You have to laugh at the record companies and when they were moaning about people like me taking 2 or 3 hours to copy an album onto cassette to play in the car and that recording in turn was destined to become a glistening streamer in the central reservation of some motorway not even one year later. Why they went digital was their own fault to create the complications they have.

  • Comment number 7.

    @2 Jack Allnutt

    The UK's copyright laws certainly do appear to be completely bonkers. From what I have been led to believe, it is the act of copying that is illegal, not being in possession of a copy, and that is a civil offence unless some kind of copy protection is circumvented (so copying a CD is a civil offence, but copying a DVD is a criminal offence).

    So, if there are any lawyers around, perhaps they can clear things up, but as I understand it:

    If you copy your own DVD you are committing a criminal offence.
    If you copy your own CD you are committing a civil offence.
    If you buy a pirate CD or DVD from a market trader you are committing no offence as you didn't copy it.

    As far as downloading is concerned, it is the act of offering copyright material for download that is the offence, not the downloading or possession, so downloading from a web site is not an offence, but downloading via BitTorrent is (because you are also offering it for download yourself because that's the way P2P works).

    Its quite likely that some/most/all of the above is wrong, but that just goes to illustrate what a poorly understood (by the masses) minefield UK copyright law is, and why it needs a major overhaul.

  • Comment number 8.

    @6 Lividov:

    Even stranger were (and still are) the antics of some of the big media corporations. Their music divisions whine about home taping and ripping, while their electronics divisions produce music systems that aid and encouraged this practice.

    Take this, for example:

    which can: "Rip, store, record, play and stream up to 40,000 songs from any source including CD, PC, Walkman® and iPod®"

    and that from the company responsible for the rootkit CD fiasco:

    No wonder people are confused.

  • Comment number 9.

    Apologies Rory for this being a bit off topic but I don't know of another way to get a message to you (no RCJ email address shown and I'm not on Twitter).

    Remember back in October 2009 you did a post '24 hours with Ubuntu'? The post was a bit scathing, bit sarky but it came with a promise to spend longer with the OS the following week.

    Nearly 18 months on there has been no revisit and two new versions of Ubuntu came in April and October 2010, unvisited by the Beeb.

    Well on 28th April, the next version comes out and there are some big changes in the UI planned for this version of Ubuntu so is this the time for you to do that promised longer look?

    Apologies again for hijacking the thread with a different subject.

  • Comment number 10.

    ... and Fedora 15 on 17th May ...


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