Google Music launches without label deals


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A frustrated Google on Tuesday announced it was proceeding with plans for a digital music service without securing licensing agreements with record labels or music publishers.

Google’s free service, Music Beta, would let users upload their music library to Google’s computers so they can stream their songs from any Web browser or Internet-connected cellphone running Google’s Android operating system.


The service is currently by invitation only and is not yet widely available to the public, the Mountain View, Calif., search giant said at its annual developers conference in San Francisco. Google is requiring users who are interested in the service to sign up here.

Google, which announced its ambitions to enter the digital music market a year ago at the same developer event, has since struggled in its negotiations with labels and publishers. At a roundtable for reporters, Google’s director of digital content for Android, Jaime Rosenberg, lashed out at the music companies, saying their deal terms were ‘unreasonable and unsustainable.’

At the same time, Rosenberg said Google would continue its talks with the labels and publishers to build a platform for distributing and selling music on Android phones and tablets.

‘We are excited about where this could go,’ he said, emphasizing that Google would also pursue deals with independent labels and artists, such as those represented by Merlin, a London organization that represents 14,000 members, including Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend and Adele.

A spokesman for Merlin, which negotiates digital music rights on behalf of its members, said the group does not have an agreement with Google.

Without licenses from artists and labels, Google is limited in what it can offer its users. One of the most obvious limitations is a requirement that users must upload their music collections to Google’s servers -- a process that can take hours -- before they can listen to them from another computer or device. Such products are called ‘locker’ or ‘cloud’ services

With the proper licenses, Google can simply scan a user’s music collection and make note of the titles before making those songs available within minutes. Striking deals with labels such as Sony Corp., Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and EMI Group would also allow Google to open a store for selling music downloads, as well as offer a subscription-based streaming service.

Amazon in March launched a similar, unlicensed service called Amazon Cloud Player. The Seattle, Wash., online retailer also failed to get licenses from labels and publishers, prompting an angry response from Sony, which said in a statement, ‘We are disappointed that the locker service that Amazon is proposing is unlicensed by Sony Music, and we hope that Amazon will resolve the situation quickly by agreeing to a license with us. We are keeping all our legal options open.’

Sony declined to comment on Google’s Music Beta.

Google noted at its news conference that its service was ‘completely legal’ because it is merely allowing people to access files they already own that are stored on Google’s servers. In addition, users must click a box promising to upload only ‘lawfully acquired music.’

Not all labels were hesitant to do business with Google, Rosenberg said in an interview after the news conference. He said the company was close to agreements with two of the four major record companies, but declined to name the labels.

-- Alex Pham and Jessica Guynn