SpiralFrog Comes A Courtin’

SpiralFrog.com has finally arrived.

The online music service, which started making noise a year ago when it announced a licensing deal with Universal Music Group, finally opened its doors September 17th, offering free music to the masses.

That’s right. Free. As in no charge, no bill, no nothing. When it comes to snagging tunes at SpiralFrog, time is the coin of the realm.

Specifically, your time. As in spending your time watching advertisements.

SpiralFrog acts pretty much like subscription services, where a flat monthly fee gives you all the music and video downloads you can suck through a broadband connection. Cancel the subscription and the content stops playing.

But at SpiralFrog you’re not spending any money. Instead, you watch an ad, then download a song. Checking in with SpiralFrog at least once per month to watch more ads keeps your downloads rocking.

Also like subscription services, SpiralFrog songs can be transferred to any portable device branded with the "Plays For Sure" logo, such as most devices playing songs protected by Microsoft’s Windows Media digital rights management technology. However, noticeably absent from devices that "play for sure" is Apple’s iPod, the biggest-selling personal music player, and, ironically, Microsoft’s Zune, which employs a special, custom flavor of the Microsoft DRM.

Another characteristic inherent with subscription services is the lack of any CD-burning capabilities. While portable digital players must be synced to the computer to determine if your subscription is still active, CD players have no such capability. Hence, you can transfer as much as you want, but burning gets you nowhere.

At launch, the service offered 800,000 music tracks and 3,500 video files for download, with much of the content coming from Universal, the only major label to sign on.

The concept of giving music away in exchange for consumers willingly exposing themselves to ad messages has been kicked around since the original Napster willingly facilitated the first part of that equation – songs for free. Now it’s time to see if people are willing to balance that off by parting with their free time.

"We believe it will be a very powerful alternative to the pirate sites," SpiralFrog chairman and founder Joe Mohen said. "With SpiralFrog you know what you’re getting … there’s no threat of viruses, adware or spyware."


Anti-Piracy Ship Springs A Leak

When a company specializes in keeping copyrighted content from illicitly showing up on the Net, you can bet it’s not a good thing when the company’s e-mails end up on Web sites and file-sharing networks for all the world to see.

That was the strange case of MediaDefender when hackers intercepted and then distributed a 700-plus megabyte file filled with the company’s internal e-mails as well as messages exchanged with other companies. Plus, as sort of a "bonus track," a 25-minute audio clip purporting to be a recording of a conversation between company execs and law enforcement officials was also included.

The very public private messages were apparently obtained and distributed by a group calling themselves MediaDefender-Defenders. The group claims to have obtained the e-mails by hacking a MediaDefender employee’s Gmail account. Along with internal communiques, the e-mail dump also included messages between MediaDefender and record labels.

Some of the more interesting e-mails were about a Web site – Miivi.com – which MediaDefender was accused of operating as sort of a sting operation enticing Web surfers to upload copyrighted material. While MediaDefender denied being connected with the site, the purloined e-mails include at least one message about using the site to circulate bogus files in order to clog file-sharing networks.

A spokesman for parent company ArtistDirect said the company was investigating the incident.


Prince Declares War On YouTube

The artist once known as a symbol has declared war on YouTube, threatening to unleash his purple legal power on the video Web site in his push to "reclaim his art on the Internet."

It’s all about the copyright, with Prince saying YouTube’s standard argument that it cannot control what people upload isn’t exactly true.

"YouTube … are clearly able [to] filter porn and pedophile material but appear to choose not to filter out the unauthorized music and film content which is core to their business success," said a statement issued on Prince’s behalf.

YouTube isn’t the only target of Prince’s ire. His Funkiness also vented against eBay and The Pirate Bay torrent site, and hired an intellectual property security company, Web Sheriff, to help lead the charge up digital piracy hill.

To be sure, each site targeted by Prince has its own copyright problems. YouTube says it complies with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by removing copyrighted material as soon as it is notified by content owners. Of course, that doesn’t stop others from re-uploading copyrighted material after its initial removal by YouTube management.

Web Sheriff’s managing director pretty much summed up YouTube’s situation, saying that no matter how many videos are removed, new problems always surface the next day.

"In the last couple of weeks we have directly removed approximately 2,000 Prince videos from YouTube," said Web Sheriff’s John Giacobbi. "The problem is that one can reduce it to zero and then the next day there will be 100 or 500 or whatever. This carries on ad nauseam at Prince’s expense."

Prince’s problem with eBay is a different matter and consists mostly of unauthorized merch such as key rings and coffee mugs appearing on the auction Web site.

Then there’s The Pirate Bay, which doesn’t actually host illicit content. Instead, The Pirate Bay is a torrent site. Such sites provide users with bits of code directing torrent-based file-sharing software to computers on the Net hosting files.

But The Pirate Bay isn’t the only torrent site on the Net. If Prince wants to remove his music from the torrent-based file-sharing community, he’s going to have to launch a legal broadside at more than just The Pirate Bay. The sheer number of torrent sites on the Web should be enough to make any intellectual property owner scream, "Aaarrrgh!"


Rethinking DRM

It hasn’t been a good year for the digital rights management technology biz. First it was Steve Jobs declaring that anti-copy protection for songs wasn’t a good thing, followed by record label EMI selling non-protected tracks at a slightly higher price than the usual 99 cents per DRM track.

Then, when Universal announced its "MP3 test," in which the label said it would offer unprotected files for a six-month trial period, many predicted that it was only a matter of time before DRM went the way of 45 rpm adapters, 8-track tapes and the Tommy Lee / Kid Rock mutual admiration society.

And now it looks as if one of DRM’s most stalwart defenders is softening his position regarding the need for copy protection technology.

At the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference, Warner Music Group Chief Executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. suggested that it was possible that certain business models could work without DRM, according to Reuters.

Bronfman has always been a DRM proponent, and earlier this year said selling music online without protection was not "logical."

But Bronfman didn’t get to where he is by turning a blind eye to reality. Physical CD sales are down and copy-protected music sales are not picking up the slack.

And Warner Music Group is also trying new ways to sell music. The label is experimenting with the new James Blunt album, All The Lost Souls, by streaming it on Blunt’s MySpace page and selling downloads via CD trading Website LaLa.com.

The LaLa deal is interesting because LaLa bypasses the computer by downloading straight to iPods. And even though it is possible to transfer music from an iPod back to a computer, doing so is hardly the typical music pirate’s method of operation, mainly because there are easier ways to illegally distribute copyrighted tracks.

However, Warner’s LaLa experiment doesn’t mean the label is about to go the EMI route and start selling unprotected tracks from all of its artists. At least, not in the near future.

"DRM is here to stay. Whether it’s here to stay on every business model in the music business is open to question," Bronfman told the Goldman Sachs conference.