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Electric Avvenu

Avvenu_logo My colleague Swati Pandey is an Art Brut fan (and who isn't?), and I happen to have the band's latest single. So I emailed her a copy this morning, kinda sorta. Don't go all Mitch Bainwol on me just yet -- I think what I did was legal. And so does Avvenu, the Palo Alto startup whose software lets users listen to their music collections remotely and share it with their pals. The free program enables all sorts of remote-access and file-sharing capabilities; think of it as creating a private Web service that also lets you push content to people, rather than letting them pull it from you.

Avvenu is still running its service by the labels and the music publishers, but in the meantime, you can experience the beta version of the software. In addition to giving you remote access to the files on your PC, the free version enables you to share up to 250 songs from your collection. You do so by creating playlists in iTunes of the songs you want to send, then sending emails with links to the playlists. The songs themselves get uploaded to Avvenu's servers. When your friends click on the links, the tracks stream to a music player that pops up in a browser window. Links expire in a week, and the tracks can be played an unlimited number of times during that period.

Avvenu's software is designed to deter digital copying, so "sharing" doesn't become "giving." Nevertheless, I'd be surprised if the labels and publishers don't demand a piece of whatever action Avvenu generates, as well as insisting that shared songs be limited to a handful of plays (think Microsoft Zune). Right now the company charges monthly fees for a premium service that lets users store files by the gigabyte on Avvenu's servers, giving them access to those files when their own computers are turned off. It also plans to add a "click to buy" button to the music player, and it may throw on targeted advertising as well. It could even deliver songs from bands the labels are promoting to users based on their preferences.

The risk for Avvenu is that industry executives will see it as yet another company trying to build a business around free music. As noted above, the software does a lot more than just stream playlists. And its overall effect, I think, is to increase the value of the music by making it easier to consume (with one important caveat). Avvenu lets me play the MP3s on my home PCs from any Internet-connected computer (or on a cell phone running v. 5 of Microsoft's Windows Mobile software, if I had such a thing), so it makes my collection more useful to me. That's good for the music biz. It also makes it easy for me to expose bands like Art Brut to my music-loving friends. That's good for the industry, too. The caveat is, it works only with songs in your iTunes library that aren't wrapped in DRM, such as the tracks ripped from CDs ... or downloaded from eDonkey. Ouch. That's no Avvenu's choice, though, and with any luck, the major labels will stop insisting on locking up 99-cent downloads. Or maybe Apple will start licensing its DRM to other companies. Either way, that's a topic for another day.


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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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