Smells Like Napster

Michael Robertson, former CEO of the once legally embattled www.MP3.com, is risking the wrath of the recording industry again. His new locally launched website, www.sideload.com, offers free access to "29,000 songs from more than 7,000 different artists," according to a press release. "No music is actually stored on Sideload.com...only links to files that are publicly available elsewhere on the net are collected." The press release doesn't address the copyright issue.

Robertson runs MP3tunes.com, launched in February 2005, which offers licensed music downloads. Unlike most online music providers, MP3tunes doesn't use digital restriction to limit which players, software, or computer can be used to store and play back the songs. Many major labels refuse to deal with Robertson because of MP3tunes' lack of digital protection. With Sideload's free access to copyrighted music files, why would Robertson risk further alienation from labels and publishers?

"It's possible some of the tracks may be unauthorized," Robertson said last week. "But the difference between Sideload and [the original] Napster is that we're simply a search engine; we're no different than Google. You can type that song name into Google or MSN or Yahoo! and chances are you're going to find the same song [link]." He estimates that "a couple thousand" new links are added to the site every day. "All we're doing is providing a nice interface where you can play it, download it, or sideload it into your Music Locker [an MP3tunes feature].... I don't expect any [litigation] from the [Recording Industry Association of America], really."

Robertson's previous venture, the original MP3.com (founded in 1997), was accused by the recording industry of not getting proper copyright clearances to offer digital music online. The company was sued by record labels and music publishers and paid a settlement of nearly $200 million. Vivendi Universal Music purchased the company in 2001 for $372 million in stocks and cash.

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