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Oh Boy, BlueTunes, This Looks Like Trouble To Me

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I’m listening to Best Of David Bowie as I type this. No, I’m not streaming it for free on MySpace Music. Instead, I’ve uploaded the album, which I own, to new music site called BlueTunes. The new service, which launches today, is trying to avoid paying streaming music fees to labels because users are uploading and then playing their own music.

If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s not the first time users could upload their music to the cloud and listen to it anywhere. Michael Robertson’s MP3.com tried it in 2000 and was promptly sued for copyright infringement. They lost, shut down the service and settled for $200 million.

Robertson was back in 2005 with a different take on the service called MP3Tunes. EMI sued MP3Tunes as well, but isn’t doing so well in court this time around.

The reason MP3.com lost the suit was because users weren’t actually uploading songs. Instead, they simply put a CD in their drive to prove they owned it (or at least had it for a few minutes). MP3.com, which already had a copy of all songs on its servers, then gave the users access to the songs online. Great idea, but the courts said no way.

MP3Tunes, by contrast, makes users actually upload every song they want to listen to online. Back in 2005 I tried the service and gave up after repeated crashes, but other people have said the service works fine. Still, in a time when you can listen to virtually any recorded song legally and for free on MySpace Music, Last.fm and iMeem, going to all the trouble of uploading those songs seems like a bit of a waste of time.

BlueTunes is opting for the MP3.com-type model. They say they have a “next generation uploader (patent pending)” that uploads songs “in a fraction of the time that it would normally take.” But the secret behind the upload is that songs aren’t really being uploaded if someone else has already done it. CEO Nick Alexander writes in an email to us:

Right now, one of our distinguishing features between us and our competition is our uploader’s technology. When a user uploads a file, the file is scanned and if it already exists on our servers, then it does not have to be uploaded. Thus, as our music collection grows, it will hopefully take a matter of seconds to minutes to upload several gigabytes of music. The technology we use to scan the file is currently patent pending.

That’s too close to the MP3.com model, and the labels are going to be all over this.

BlueTunes says they’ve raised $1.2 million in angel funding. I’m worried about this startup, which provides the same functionality (streaming music) that can be found all over the internet, but requires users to spend time “uploading” music and has a 100% chance of being sued by the RIAA. That $1.2 million isn’t going to be nearly enough to see you through this.

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