Opinion

Even the big boys make mistakes

Karl Feilder Ground Zero MP3 is the latest to receive the hype treatment

You may have already run into the latest fashion statement for the hip and trendy. A mini laptop on the plane? - No! A portable DVD player with its own goggles - No! Give up yet? OK then, looks like I'll have to tell you - the gizmo to have this month is a 64Mbyte MP3 player.

Get one now if you want to maintain your street cred. And if you never had any this is your chance to ditch that anorak, put away your trainspotter's timetable and grab those wraparound neon headphones.

Or is it? Is MP3 all the US hype industry would have us believe? Are we all destined to ditch our CD collections in exchange for an Internet-based virtual music library?

There are, naturally, a few things many have missed from the information deluge arriving daily in their inbox.

Let's take the recent announcement from MP3.com, the spin city of Internet music. They have formed MyMP3.com which allows you to create a virtual CD collection that is a mirror image of your dusty, scratched, rugrat-battered silver discs. Cool. The media put all the facts into their fable liquidiser and hit the start button. So what did they miss?

Well, firstly you must own the CD before you can create a virtual copy of it. Great news - strike one for the good guys. But it is now becoming clear that copying CDs you own for personal use is specifically permitted under the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act, signed by that all-time trendsetter, Uncle Bill (not Gates - the other one who was actually elected to run the US).

The trouble is, in order for this virtual library to exist, MP3.com must first copy the CD onto its Web server. That is not personal use, and the music lawyers are dusting off their spandex suits.

All the other stuff is once again swept under the carpet. "What other stuff?" you may well ask. How about bandwidth for starters? Each MP3 song (apart from all-time classics like Freebird and Stairway) is about 5Mbytes - and they don't call them mega for nothing. So, a whole album is usually 50Mbytes or more.

Maybe that's fine in the good ole US of Disney, where I read 600,000 (yes thousand not million or billion) homes are now linked to the Internet by leased line. But, in my world, imagine the scene.

You come home from a long day at work and decide that the best way to release the stress of the day is to listen to Deep Purple's Made in Japan. You've hidden away your CDs, so now you log onto MyMP3.com using your home ISDN connection (what do you mean you don't have one?). And 13.2 minutes later you can start listening. And that's at a full 64kbps. Forget it - I'd sooner my music was instantly accessible.

Until we have massive local cacheing (MLC - watch and see) such ideas are pie in the sky. Oh and I see that the Recording Industry Artist Association has commenced legal action. The battle lines are drawn. Computer industry hype-notists versus real world bejewelled music industry lawyers. Let the big boys' games begin!

Karl Feilder is founder of Greenwich Mean Time, developer of the Check 2000 range of PC millennium tools

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This was first published in February 2000

 

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