MP3tunes lets subscribers tap into digital music locker from mobile devices

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Ever wanted to play your music collection from anytime, anywhere you wanted? Up until recently, that was pie-in-the-sky talk. Now, that notion is at least coming down to the clouds.

MP3tunes on Monday launched a service that promises to let its subscribers do just that from their mobile devices, using ‘cloud computing’ where the music files are stored on server computers that can be summoned on virtually any device with an Internet connection.


The San Diego-based company, in launching its new ‘Buy Anywhere, Listen Everywhere’ service, made a dig at Apple Inc.’s iTunes music store, which requires buyers of digital songs to take the extra step of converting their purchased songs to a different file format to make them playable on non-Apple devices.

‘Apple wants to lock you into their store and devices,’ said Michael Robertson, chief executive of MP3tunes who also founded the original site in 1997. ‘But what’s best for consumers is to be able to shop at any store and use it with any device.’

It’s not a new idea. But it’s taken some time for both the technology and the legal hurdles to catch up (to read more on the legal drama, just read past the break below). David Pakman, a digital music pioneer and now a venture capitalist at Venrock in New York, started the first such service in 1999 with

‘The concept makes even more sense now than it did back then,’ Pakman said. ‘Everyone consumes music digitally, and there is a need for a universal storage space in the cloud that works with all devices.’

Robertson’s career has followed the many ups and downs of the music industry’s tumultous attempt to cope with the migration of music from CDs to online digital files, and the torrent of piracy that ensued. His first company,, ...

... raised more than $370 million in an initial public offering in 1999, at the peak of the dot com fever. In 2000, Robertson got into hot water with his ‘Beam-It’ service, which let users register CDs they own and stream the music from any computer. Universal Music Group sued for copyright infringement, claiming that did not obtain licenses for the songs it streamed, and won. Robertson’s company settled the case by paying Universal $53 million.


The music labels didn’t like his current company either. is embroiled in a three-year-old lawsuit with EMI, which alleges that the site encourages piracy. The case is pending in New York federal courts.

Since then, several other cases have slowly built a legal foundation for services such as Cablevision, which wanted to offer its subscribers the ability to watch TV shows on the Web rather than from the subscriber’s home TV via a digital video recorder, in August 2008 won a case brought by network TV companies.

Robertson also cited a recent case brought by Viacom against YouTube, in which a federal judge found the website not liable for pirated videos its users upload, provided that YouTube has measures in place to remove the offending videos.

‘The law is on our side,’ Robertson said.

-- Alex Pham

Corrected July 14, 2010: An earlier version of this post said that MP3tunes prevailed in a lawsuit against EMI. In fact, the case is still pending in federal courts.

Twitter: @AlexPham