Tuesday, November 11, 2003

PLAYLOUDER STILL: So, the big debate in the playground right now is what to make of the Playlouder MSP (or "music service provider", as it would be styled.) We like Playlouder here, and the noises they make, and it's interesting to see someone come up with a different model for legitimate music file-sharing, but we're far from convinced of the likely success of this one.

In short, if we've got it right, you pay Playlouder to be your Internet Service Provider. They give some of the money you pay to them to the record labels, and in return, you're able to swap music files to your hearts content, any way you choose, with other users of Playlouder MSP. Providing, of course, those files are on labels who are part of the deal.

It's a nice idea, but there seem to be a few flaws with this model - if the record companies have signed up to it, it must be because they're convinced that the rights management is going to work, which would imply that you won't be able to go outside of the Playlouder MSP zone to download. So, whereas with Kazaa you have the whole world of Kazaa users to choose from, you're only going to have Kazaa Users who are also on Playlouder to pick tracks up off. And they'll only have tracks from the licensed labels available. Which seems to have cut down the attractiveness of the system right there - you'll probably have no trouble finding Smells Like Teen Spirit, but early Tad might be harder to come by. We guess that Playlouder could have a central server which held all these tracks, but then why would their users need to go through a file sharing service? We can't see the advantage for you if you're paying cold hard cash for the tracks in having to go and fish them off a file-sharing service - sure, it might be loads cheaper than iTunes, but at least Apple will serve you now, you don't have to wait for the only other Michelle Shocked fan sharing your ISP to come online in order to get your mitts on The Oldest Living Hippy. Of course, you could always go and look for the track in the wilder waters beyond PlayLouder's walled community, but for that you'd need to have a separate ISP to avoid the rights management; and if you're going to have to keep with BT Yahoo, say, to access some of the things you want. And since nobody is going to pay for two susbcriptions to ISPs, it looks like a straight choice between one which lets you use all of the file sharing networks and one which doesn't. It's a bit harsh, but if Playlouder can't guarantee access to all the labels' catalogue all the time, it's not entirely clear why anyone would want to sign up with them. Unless they were just very interested in their ISP package and aren't currently downloading any music at all, in which case their Music Service Provider isn't an answer to the problem of how to stop people illegally downloading, but a question of how to encourage people onto file sharing networks for the first time.

And you've got to scratch your head at record labels suddenly deciding file sharing networks are alright, after all - last week, wasn't using Kazaa going to fill your computer up with pictures of wanking babies and hard-disk wiping viruses? Wasn't it all a bit illegal and dangerous and liable to cause all sorts of potentially-prison-punishable bother for you? How is it these alleged problems could all be solved by nothing more technical than giving the record labels some of the money being spent on your ISP?

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