What a night out that was. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time...
On Friday morning CNET woke up to find it was sharing a bed with MP3.com, and couldn't quite recollect how the pair of them had got there. We've all had nights like this, but yesterday CNET staffers were puzzling over how the mothership found itself tweaked into an improbable and very hastily arranged relationship between two hugely unlikely partners, both apparently lured to sin by the glamor of latest Silicon Valley goldrush: copy-protected music downloads.
Some poor, unwitting business development executive at CNET must be rubbing his forehead this morning, asking himself "what did I do?"
CNET has decided to buy some "specific assets" of the company that Michael Robertson founded in 1998 with the intention of forming a marketplace for the exchange of music. CNET won't inherit the sprawling archive of music that has accreted there, however. MP3.com has never been less than a mess, but it does represent a hefty social archive. And at some point (and we shall endeavour to find out who, and where) two drunken business executives decided to flush the chain on the whole lot, and strike a deal. CNET has acquired the mp3.com domain name, to add to its existing treasures, such as "com.com" and - stop laughing, you folks - "news.com". The music archive, however, gets it in the neck.
Musicians received this announcement on Friday.
"Your personal information, music, images, related content or other information will not be transferred to CNET Networks, Inc. or any other third party... Please note, however, that promptly following the removal of the MP3.com website, all content will be deleted from our servers and all previously submitted tapes, CD-ROMs and other media in our possession will be destroyed. We recommend that you make alternative content hosting arrangements as soon as practicable."
A verbose way of saying, "piss off"...
"It has been a privilege to host one of the largest and most diverse collections of music in the world. MP3.com wishes to express its sincere thanks to each of you for making our website an important part of your musical journey. We wish you continued success."
... and, goodbye.
Not since the Great Leap Forward has there been such a destruction of the commons. Back then, for political reasons, millions of books were burned. Now, for very sensible commercial reasons that we must not question, millions of MP3s will be lost to the commons. You have precisely seventeen days to grab the good stuff (and, Steb Sly - we hope you have a backup)
Punters and musicians alike will have until December 2 to retrieve the goods. After that, the future isn't too difficult to predict.
CNET will follow Wal-Mart, Real Inc. and Apple Computer into the DRM business, infecting as many computers as they can with restrictive software controls that close what for a brief period has been an open computer platform. They all hope that this tentative business model, the terms of which are set by the entertainment "industry", will somehow turn them a profit. Or at least give the illusion of doing so, until a better idea comes along.
One such idea is the tremendously popular notion of 'compulsory licenses' - a flat rate fee to be levied by some rich nitwit, somewhere (as a society we can choose who and where at our leisure) - but which potentially provides us with free music private sharing and a way of ensuring the creators are recompensed. It's handicapped with a Stalinist name, right now, but even the libertarian Electronic Frontier Foundation has thrown its weight behind the idea.
And with this war of the ideas imminent, we expect no less than to see some creative disclaimers appear at the end of CNET news stories. Back when Intel invested in the advertiser-friendly portal, CNET used to run disclaimers detailing INTC's stake (six per cent, if you must know).
Can we expect to see a news stories about music downloads tagged with similar conflict-of-interest disclaimers? There's something indecent about this prospect and we hope Register readers can formulate it more stylishly and succulently than we can.
Meanwhile, CNET's acquisition of the mp3.com domain leaves it with all sorts of delicious headaches, best encapsulated by the great American one-man band Hasil Adkins - familiar to you Cramps fans - who pondered, "I went out last night/And I got hitched up/When I woke up this morning/ Shoulda seen what I had in the bed with me." ®
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