Federal Ruling on Cloud Music: Happy Days for Apple, Google and Amazon

  • A federal judge has ruled that online music services that host tracks in the cloud are not liable if that music has been acquired illegally by customers. ETCentric reported earlier this week that this may seem like a hollow victory for the record labels. However, a green light for online music locker services also provides some legal certainty for the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon.
  • “The judgement, by U.S. District Judge William Pauley, came in a case involving EMI and fourteen other record companies and music publishers, who had sued the service MP3tunes,” reports MacUser. “Judge Pauley explained that MP3tunes and its chief executive, Michael Robertson, had not breached the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in allowing downloads.”
  • “This is a huge victory. Users can still download songs from publicly available websites, and store them without a separate license fee, so long as MP3tunes complies with takedown notices,” says Greg Gulia, representing MP3tunes and Robertson.
  • This ruling should also come as good news to those companies investing in cloud-based music services. For example, Apple’s iTunes Match is due in the U.S. later this year. According to MacUser: “It will scan users’ iTunes libraries and allow them to access versions of tracks in their library, but not purchased from iTunes, online in iCloud. Tracks purchased in iTunes are automatically available to computers and mobile devices associated with an iTunes account. If no match is found, users will be able to upload the track themselves.”

Judge Rules Against MP3tunes: Hollow Victory for Record Labels?

  • While a judge has ruled against MP3tunes and founder, Michael Robertson, for copyright infringement, the details of the ruling may provide online music locker businesses like those from Google and Amazon with a better legal foundation.
  • A key finding is that users, not MP3tunes, had the ability to determine which files were placed in their lockers.
  • Also, it was determined that DMCA does not require one to investigate potentially infringing activity without a specific complaint from copyright holders.
  • “The news is even better for Google and Amazon,” according to Ars Technica. “Those companies’ music locker services do not even offer the broad sideloading functionality that has caused Robertson legal headaches. So if Judge Pauley’s reasoning survives appeal, Google and Amazon will be on solid legal ground. Indeed, those companies may even want to start thinking about whether they’ve been too cautious. For example, they might save a lot of money by taking advantage of the deduplication part of the ruling.”

Google Android 4.0 Phone Set for Launch: Ice Cream Sandwich, Anyone?

  • Google’s third-generation Nexus Prime smartphone will reportedly arrive in October running the Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” OS (in time to compete with Apple’s rumored iPhone 5 release).
  • The device is expected to feature a 720p Super AMOLED HD display, a 4G LTE radio and front/rear-facing cameras, powered by a 1.5GHz processor.
  • The display will reportedly include a 4.5-inch panel with a PenTile layout.
  • According to Digital Trends: “Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is said to be not just a simple update from the current version of Android. Instead, ICS is intended to be a multi-device OS, which created a unified user experience across Android tablets, phones and Google TV. This could help solve some of the fragmentation problems that Google has with Android, and is one of the primary weak points in its battle with Apple’s seamless iOS.”

Android and iOS Numbers Continue to Surge While Competitors Slide

  • Based on Q2 statistics, Android has extended its dominance as the most popular smartphone operating system in the U.S., while Apple’s iOS also continues to gain traction.
  • According to NPD, 52 percent of smartphones shipped in the U.S. during the second quarter were running Android (up 19 percent from the previous year). Apple’s iOS earned a 29 percent share, up seven percent from Q2 2010.
  • NPD reports that these figures may have an impact on the potential revitalization of Motorola. “Google’s acquisition of Motorola shifts the balance of power in the handset-patent conflict between Google and its operating system competitors,” said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for NPD. “Android’s momentum has made for a large pie that is attractive to Motorola’s Android rivals, even if they must compete with their operating system developer.”
  • Market gains for Android and iOS have negatively impacted the competition. Market share for Research In Motion’s BlackBerry OS dropped significantly from 28 percent in the second quarter of 2010 to 11 percent this year. Microsoft’s Windows Mobile also suffered, falling from 10 percent in Q2 2010 to four percent in Q2 2011.
  • Prepaid smartphone numbers are on the rise, which may also impact Motorola (8 percent of prepaid phones were smartphones in Q2 2010, a figure that jumped to 22 percent this year). “Android is also leading the charge in the rapidly growing prepaid smartphone market,” Rubin said. “This was once a key segment for Motorola that the company has an opportunity to reclaim as prepaid carriers build their smartphone portfolios.”

Why is Skype Spending So Much on the GroupMe Acquisition?

  • Skype, which is in the process of being acquired by Microsoft, is purchasing GroupMe, a year-old startup with 20 employees known for its popular cross-platform messaging system that works between smartphones.
  • Skype will reportedly pay $85 million for the company, which GigaOM suggests raises the question: “Why is Skype spending so much money on a relatively small company with a relatively small user base when compared to Skype?”
  • While Skype is a partner with Facebook, it has to be concerned that competition in voice and video communication is becoming intense with Facebook Messenger, Google Huddle and Apple iMessage. (GroupMe adds group messaging.)
  • Skype will still need to decide if it is a product for consumers or a collaboration tool for corporations.
  • ETCentric staffer Dennis Kuba raises another interesting question: “Is voice and video communications becoming commoditized?”

Tech Trends: Will the Patent War go Nuclear?

  • Tech companies are spending from $400K -$750K per patent. This is money companies are not spending on innovation or jobs.
  • Writing for InfoWorld, Bill Snyder makes the analogy to problems with the high costs of healthcare due to money spent defending against medical malpractice. He points out that while the “patent arms race goes nuclear,” not only will new tech jobs not be created, but existing jobs will be lost.
  • “Think what Google could do with $6 billion, writes Snyder. “Think of the research that would spawn new products, advance innovation, and create who knows how many thousands of good jobs up and down the technology food chain. Instead, that money is going to buy patents.”
  • Snyder indicates more patent buyouts are on the way. “Everyone knows what an arms race is. One side builds a new weapon, and the other side has to match it. Then the first side builds an even more powerful weapon, prompting the other guy to build more and so on. Remember how well that worked out for the Soviet Union?”

Marc Andreessen Believes Software Is Eating the World (A Good Thing)

  • “In an upbeat and highly insightful essay on technology and innovation, pioneer Marc Andreessen outlines the ‘dramatic and broad technological shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy…'” comments ETCentric staffer Bob Lambert with this submission.
  • Andreessen notes HP’s announcement that it is “exploring jettisoning its struggling PC business in favor of investing more heavily in software” and Google’s plans to “buy up the cellphone handset maker Motorola Mobility” as recent surprises in the tech world, yet also examples of what makes the pioneer “optimistic about the future growth of the American and world economies.”
  • Andreessen suggests that Apple and Google are undervalued and we should avoid using the term “bubble” when analyzing the value of technologies. He writes: “…too much of the debate is still around financial valuation, as opposed to the underlying intrinsic value of the best of Silicon Valley’s new companies.”
  • “Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not,” Andreessen adds.
  • Andreessen’s essay offers a compelling take on the direction of the tech industry, its place in world economies and some of the challenges that lie ahead. He notes interesting examples including Amazon, Netflix, Pixar, Pandora, Skype and others.
  • “Instead of constantly questioning their valuations, let’s seek to understand how the new generation of technology companies are doing what they do, what the broader consequences are for businesses and the economy and what we can collectively do to expand the number of innovative new software companies created in the U.S. and around the world,” he concludes. “That’s the big opportunity. I know where I’m putting my money.”

Google Goes Live with Music Discovery Site Magnifier

  • Three months after Google launched its cloud-based Music Beta, the company has introduced a new music discovery site called Magnifier.
  • According to the Official Google Blog: “Magnifier will feature great music and the people who make it, including videos of live performances, interviews with artists, explorations of different musical genres and free songs that you can add to your Music Beta collection.”
  • To kick-off Magnifier this week, Google is featuring indie rockers My Morning Jacket. “We’re giving away two of their tracks to Music Beta users, one of which is an exclusive to Magnifier: a live performance of ‘The Day is Coming.’ To get these free tracks and hundreds of other songs in our Free Song Archive, you need a Music Beta by Google account (if you don’t have an account, request an invitation).”
  • There is no mention that Google analyzes your Music Beta library to suggest new songs, but they certainly could do so.

Attention Gamers and Developers: Namaste To Launch User-Gen Gaming Platform

  • Are you a casual gamer who wants to create your own games but lacks the resources of a big game company? Namaste may be for you.
  • The startup is developing a platform called StoryBricks, designed to help casual gamers and those interested in being part of a development team to create their own content and share them on social networks.
  • “The twist is that it’s not for professional game designers,” reports TechCrunch, “but users who want to create their own games. The company is understood to be be in discussions with several top VCs.”
  • Namaste has started fundraising via AngelList and recently tapped Anil Hansjee, former head of corporate development for Google Europe, to join the company as advisor.

Google Acquires Motorola Mobility: Will Competition Really Increase?

  • If you haven’t already seen the flood of reports online (including a number of related stories on ETCentric), Google announced it will acquire Motorola for $40 per share in cash, or a total of about $12.5 billion. The deal has led to a great deal of speculation this week regarding the future of the Android ecosystem and other enterprises such as Google TV.
  • “This acquisition will not change our commitment to run Android as an open platform. Motorola will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. We will run Motorola as a separate business,” stated Larry Page in the official Google blog. “Many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success and we look forward to continuing to work with all of them to deliver outstanding user experiences.”
  • Page believes the acquisition will also serve as a buffer to anti-competitive patent attacks on Android: “Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.”
  • This deal raises a number of compelling questions (see thoughts by Robert Scoble, Peter Kafka and others in the related posts listed below), but first I have to ask: Can Google have its “open platform” and compete with its licensees too?

Google+ Games: Should Facebook and Apple be Nervous?

  • The introduction of games to Google+ potentially threatens both Facebook (which also has games) and Apple (which takes a 30 percent cut versus Google’s 5 percent).
  • Google+ sees games as being core to their mission: “We don’t consider ourselves experts at making compelling games, but we can bring a lot to the party,” explains Bradley Horowitz, VP of Product for Google+. “There were some internal debates about whether Google was well-suited to have games in our repertoire and what is the value of games to the users. There’s tremendous value for users. They provide a way for people to connect, discover and interact with each other… We don’t see games contrary to our mission, or a diversion. We see them as being core.”
  • If HTML5 unifies the Web and mobile, it could become possible “for software to be written once and run across multiple devices.” And if Google+ games were to run via a browser on the iPhone or iPad, this could be an additional concern for Apple.
  • What do you think? Should Facebook and Apple be nervous?

Where Would We Be Today if the World Wide Web had Been Patented?

  • August 6 marked the 20th anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee publishing the first website at CERN. Techdirt provides a few guesses regarding where we might stand today had Berners-Lee sought and received a patent for the World Wide Web.
  • The article suggests that innovation would be dramatically limited and rather than an open World Wide Web, we would be using proprietary, walled gardens such as AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy. The idea of open Internet development would be hampered by lawsuits.
  • Search functionality would most likely be dismal (no Google, for example), and limited to proprietary systems. We may also not have seen the meteoric rise of smartphones without the Web.
  • And try to imagine this: “Most people’s use of online services would be more about ‘consumption’ than ‘communication.’ There would still be chat rooms and such, but there wouldn’t be massive public communication developments like blogs and Twitter. There might be some social networking elements, but they would be very rudimentary within the walled garden.”
  • What are your thoughts? If Berners-Lee had not been so generous, would innovation be stalled in patent hell? Or would we have moved forward with other systems in development at the time?

Review: Gizmodo Selects the Best Cloud Storage Services

  • Gizmodo takes an in-depth look at 11 popular cloud storage services and provides analysis of each based on pricing, features and functionality.
  • This is a great bird’s-eye view for those who may be wondering what makes each service distinct.
  • The site picks SugarSync as the clear winner, which offers 5GB of free storage and has plans ranging from 30-500GB starting at $50 a year.
  • “It combines the best bits of all of the other services and weaves it together into a fast and intuitive package,” reports Gizmodo about SugarSync. “It worked exactly like we wanted to. Super powerful, super easy, and tons of features.”
  • Additional top services include Google (Budget Winner), Microsoft SkyDrive (Free Winner) and Dropbox (Your Mom’s Winner).

Quixey Search Engine Targets Social Media Apps

  • Quixey is an app-specialized search engine funded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
  • The service hopes to make it simpler for social media users (developers and consumers) to find applications and widgets for social networks.
  • Last week, Quixey got closer to that goal when it added Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Foursquare integration.
  • The engine also indexes and categorizes tools and apps based on social chatter, blog posts, reviews and other third-party descriptions of their function. The search technology bypasses the clutter by efficiently mining data and app-related keywords.
  • Quixey co-founder Tomer Kagan explains: “A lot of apps on Facebook [for example] don’t even have a description attached — just a name. From a search perspective, if all you have to work with is like three words, it’s extremely difficult.”
  • The Mountain View, CA startup has raised $400,000 in seed money from Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors.

MySpace Founder Believes Google+ has Facebook on the Defensive

  • Tom Anderson, former founder and president of MySpace, details the key advantages Google+ has over Facebook in a recent guest post on TechCrunch.
  • Anderson suggests Google+ can attract game developers by taking a smaller cut, and may not need any advertising at all. “Google has plenty to gain without ever showing an ad and, put simply, Google doesn’t need the money,” writes Anderson. “Facebook’s got to know this, and it’s got to have them just a little bit concerned.”
  • Facebook is testing out a “real-time” feed, as opposed to its current default “Top News” algorithm (which Anderson has criticized). Facebook is having to deal with complaints from advertisers and app developers. “It seems that the ‘Top News’ stream is killing the virality of advertisers ‘content’ and of apps that are trying to find new users,” he adds.
  • Anderson addresses Google’s decision to block business accounts and suggests both companies have some challenging decisions to make: “How do they balance what’s best for the regular guy (you & me), advertisers (big brands), small local businesses (who can never afford the big spend), platform developers with non-competing services (games & music, which it appears FB won’t get into) and platform developers with potentially competitive services (like business networking and dating, which FB/G+ may want to get into themselves someday).”
  • “Over the long haul (5-10 years), the company that makes the right choices in these areas may just end up winning,” he concludes.