A VCR for Internet Radio.

By Richard Menta- 3/23/01

One has to be impressed with the innovation that is going on these day in digital music despite the fact that the music industry - through its strong-arm lobby the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) - is trying to sue every entity that is helping Net music evolve.


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The lawsuits have had the side effect of forcing Net entrepreneurs to be more creative, working within the precedents of copyright law to help stave off legal action. One of those precedents is the Supreme Court ruling almost 20 years ago that declared that VCR's were not tools of copyright infringement thereby allowing the average consumer to freely tape their favorite shows on television.

Using that precedent, research and development company The Audio Mill has applied the VCR concept to Internet radio. Their new product, released as a beta this week, is called the RadioActive Bitbop Tuner and allows users to search thousands of Internet radio stations for their favorite artists and record songs to their computer.

"We've all been using VCRs for 20 years, and we know exactly how they work," said former CEO of CheckOut.com Richard Wolpert, who is an investor in The Audio Mill "This is implementing the same thing in an electronic way."

To cover its bets, Audio Mill has added a feature to the software that locks the content to the computer it is downloaded to, preventing further distribution.

It might also be pointed out that while most of the MP3 files traded on Napster use a high quality 128Kbit compression rate, those files are to large to stream live to anyone not on a LAN. On slower connections it would take longer to download the song than the songs length meaning constant interruptions. Most Net radio stations must stream a low quality 16kbit or 24kbit compression to allow continuous live music that reaches modem users. Music recorded and collected off of the Bitbop tuner, while adequate, will simply not sound as good as tunes off Napster.

Jupiter Research analyst Aram Sinnreich feels the software has potential. "The application itself is very cool from a consumer standpoint. Radio has always been a transient medium, and it's certainly been known for decades that radio drives a lot of CD sales...If you give the consumer the ability to grab a song from radio play and say, 'Wow, I really like this,' then you have the capacity to turn that listener into a buyer."

But Sinnreich also feels that the program may still fall afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and that it may still be open to legal action. An opening is all the RIAA needs.

The RIAA has had a lot of success in the courts as of late. What drives them is not as much the desire to protect their copyrights as it is for control of the Internet music industry. The record industry has realized it can take a good idea, sue the small company that created it to drain their financial resources, and then build their own copy stealing the idea. They have already done it. Universal and Sony have combined to build their own Napster clone called Duet, which is set to appear this summer. Universal, after winning $54 million from MP3.com over its My.MP3.com music locker service is now in the process of creating a locker service of its own.

If Bitbop tuner turns out to be a success don't be surprised if Big Music sues them too, if just to put them out of business and take over their innovation for themselves.

That's big business folks, as ugly as it may sound. Bitbop Tuner can be downloaded at http://www.radioactive.com/

Copyright 2001 MP3 Newswire

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