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Mobile music, minus the fee

Mediamaster_logo_2 It's been interesting to watch the number of entrepreneurs building Web-based media businesses around the concept of online lockers, an idea that failed in convincing fashion back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This time, though, they're offering something a tad sexier than access to your collection from your PC at work. Ezmo is one example; another is MediaMaster, which is enables people to create Internet radio stations based on their collections. Those stations can then be posted to their Facebook pages.

Now, MediaMaster is pushing the edge a bit futher by giving users free access to their collections from certain kinds of cellphone (specifically, a smartphone running Windows Mobile software or a Treo equipped with Palm's OS). That's a wonderfully disruptive use of the technology, given its potential to undermine all sorts of fee-based mobile music businesses. I mean, how long will it be before every phone has the brains of a smartphone? This, IMHO, is the Achilles heel of mobile-phone apps that try to extract a premium from consumers for the privilege of doing things that they can do for free (or less expensively) on a Web-connected PC. Ultimately, the only sustainable premium may be the price that mobile carriers charge for data service, and even that has dropped considerably over the years.

The X factor here is what MediaMaster may eventually charge for its locker service, which is still in something of an r&d phase. My guess, though, is that some amount of storage and remote access will always be free -- it would hard to compete otherwise -- and the company will make its money off of add-on services and sponsorships.

Doubling your Ticketmaster pleasure

I've never seen a surcharge of this magnitude before, but maybe some of you folks have. LA Times reader Tom Ogden sent in a copy of a Ticketmaster receipt showing that one $32 seat for a play at UCLA (The Fortune Teller) actually cost $67.40. That's a markup of more than 110%. Here's the breakdown: $12 for a "Facility Fee," $19 for a "Handling Fee," and $4.40 for an "Order Processing fee." The first two fees are clearly more important, because they were capitalized. Anyway, when he saw the total, Ogden said, he decided not to buy.

As Ticketmaster's take-no-prisoners publicist, Larry Solters, has explained to me repeatedly, much of what the company tacks on top of the ticket price goes to entities other than Ticketmaster. Still, the explanation that Solters gives for concert fees -- that the band takes all the gate, so promoters and venues insist on extra charges to make a profit -- wouldn't seem to apply here. Do marionette plays have promoters? Did Erik Sanko demand 100% of the gate? And why would UCLA pile on a $12 facility fee for the Freud Playhouse instead of including that compensation in the ticket price?

One consolation for Ogden is that the ticket could have been more expensive. Had he wanted to print his own ducat, Ticketmaster would have charged an additional $2.50 for that privilege.

Court to weigh p2p filtering systems

Morpheus_logo U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson offered more details this week about the p2p filtering bake-off he wants court-appointed special master to perform. At issue is the best way for StreamCast Networks to block unauthorized downloading with its Morpheus software while preserving the "core noninfringing uses." While the results will apply only to Morpheus, the work could influence other courts as they consider other suits involving large-scale copyright infringements (say, Viacom's against YouTube).

Continue reading Court to weigh p2p filtering systems »

From Ezmo - an explanation

Ezmo_logo Ezmo CEO Petter Karal e-mailed last night to answer some of the questions I raised in my last post about the site's business model and licensing. As I suspected, the site -- an online music locker that lets users share their collections with a small group of friends -- is banking on a fair-use defense and is not paying royalties. In short, he argues that Ezmo is a new kind of music playing device, virtual instead of plastic. And using it to play one's music to 10 friends or less is akin to bringing one's CDs to a small party. That's a social activity, he reasons, not a commercial distribution or a public performance. His rationale is better articulated than the one I suggested yesterday; whether the labels and music publishers accept it is, of course, another matter. As for me, I still wonder how Ezmo can do on-demand streaming without licenses. But then, I'm not a copyright lawyer.

Karal's actual comments appear after the jump.

Continue reading From Ezmo - an explanation »

For Ezmo -- with love and squalor

Ezmo_logo Add Ezmo to the list of sites claiming to offer a legal way to share music. The service, based in Norway, is an online music locker similar to Lala.com, minus the (questionable) business model. In fact, there's no apparent business model at all, at least not yet. And unless Ezmo followed Lala's lead on the licensing front, its creators may soon find themselves spending their start-up cash on attorney fees.

Continue reading For Ezmo -- with love and squalor »

Location, location, location

Youtube_logo2 Judging by their top executives' remarks, neither NBC Universal nor Viacom is much of a fan of YouTube. Viacom is still embroiled in a billion-dollar copyright infringement lawsuit against YouTube, and NBC Universal recently joined its media rival in demanding that YouTube remove clips from its television shows. But the two conglomerates appear to be taking subtly different approaches to competing with YouTube for the online video audience. Although both seem wedded to the dubious notion that people will go out of their way online for content they like, at least Viacom is making the trip shorter.

Continue reading Location, location, location »

Comcast tries p2p throttling

I guess this is the entertainment industry's vision of the future: ISPs that interdict file-sharing. Bravo to the AP's Peter Svensson for a troubling bit of investigation that produced two pieces today, one on Comcast's practice of sending bogus reset messages to p2p users in the act of uploading, and a sidebar suggesting how Comcast was doing it.

Continue reading Comcast tries p2p throttling »

Morpheus loses, but not badly

Morpheus_logo_2 The twisting path of MGM vs. Grokster (the entertainment industry's lawsuit against the companies behind the Grokster, Kazaa and Morpheus file-sharing programs) took another fascinating turn today. As only fanatical followers of this case may know, two of the three sets of defendants -- the companies connected to Grokster and Kazaa -- settled with the movie studios, record companies and music publishers not long after the Supreme Court ruled that p2p software companies could be held liable for inducing infringement. But StreamCast Networks, which distributes Morpheus, couldn't strike a deal with the labels and studios, so it fell to U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson to apply the justices' opinion to that portion of the case. He did so a year ago, finding that StreamCast was, in fact, liable. But he did not immediately grant the plaintiffs' request for a permanent injunction, wondering aloud at a hearing how to craft an injunction that did not block non-infringing uses of Morpheus. Today, Wilson finally granted the injunction (Download the pdf here), but with caveats that will keep StreamCast in the game at least temporarily.

Continue reading Morpheus loses, but not badly »

YouTube video recognition

Youtube_logo Months after promising to do so, Google has rolled out a recognition system for YouTube that can help copyright owners block unauthorized uploads of their work. Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge weighed in with an early criticism, noting that such systems have trouble distinguishing fair uses from infringements. So do some copyright holders, heh heh heh.

Continue reading YouTube video recognition »

Music that feels free

Qtrax_logo I have a column on latimes.com today discussing a couple of different business models that companies such as Grooveshark, Qtrax and Mashboxx (remember them?) are trying to bring to file-sharing. They're divided into two basic camps: one tries to persuade p2p users to pay for songs, and the other tries to persuade advertisers to pay for access to a law-abiding p2p audience. The latter is obviously the bigger departure from the status quo ante Napster. After all, the major record companies once fretted that low-cost online approaches would devalue music and crater sales. Now they're signing licensing deals with ventures like Qtrax that let people play songs on demand for free.

Continue reading Music that feels free »

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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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