Glenn Reynolds’ MP3.com Eulogy

Death of a Friend

It’s true, of course, that MP3.com has been sick for a long time. They foolishly bet the company on a music “storage” system called “Beam-it” that was really a filesharing system, were nearly put out of business by the resulting lawsuit, then rescued by Vivendi, a company that’s in pretty bad shape itself. But the original idea was a great one: Easy to use, easy to upload music and art, lots of networking and music-finding capabilities, and a real sense of community. That lived on, to a degree, even after the takeover. Now it’s soon to be gone, and it’s not at all clear that the replacement will be similar.

I can’t help but notice that this change seems to be working to the advantage of big record companies. It’s not just that they’re cracking down, with mixed success, on file-sharers. It’s that the environment for independent music on the Web seems to have grown more inhospitable, too. And I’ve always had a suspicion that shutting down these independent channels for music distribution, more than cracking down on piracy, has been the real goal of big record labels. The technology for making music, after all, has gotten steadily cheaper. Where once their control of big studios gave them an economic advantage, now record companies’ chief asset is their control of distribution and marketing channels. The Internet threatened an end-run around that process. It still does, but the end of MP3.com bodes poorly for the future. Its replacement is likely to be something that ought to be named DRM.com., based on Digital Rights Management, and aimed not at facilitating the spread of music, but at limiting it.

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