Thursday, January 24, 2008

Warner v. Seeqpod

Digital Music News reported today that Warner Music Group has set it sights (and its lawyers) on Seeqpod, the search engine that finds artists and mp3s, wherever they may be on the web, and dishes them up via a basic, but quite serviceable player.

Have you tried Seeqpod? What makes it particularly interesting, to me, is its ability not only to find and display mp3s of almost any track that comes to mind but to play it using a Quick Time player. That becomes particularly interesting if you're using an iPhone. Why? Because the iPhone doesn't support most Flash-based music sites. It does, however, support Quick Time. This means that iPhone owners can use Seeqpod to search and discover millions of music tracks and play them without having to pay a thing. No wonder the major labels are concerned.

And what about Apple? One might think that Seeqpod's existence would be especially problematic for the company that provides both the iPhone (that supports the Seeqpod search) and the underlying iTunes software that connects phone to computer to content. Paid content.

But maybe not. It has often been said of Apple that it makes far more from selling iPods and iPhones than it does from selling music. In theory, then, Apple might be more inclined to look the other way when an upstart like Seeqpod allows consumers to do with Apple's technology something the major labels never intended. But then, Apple has long played this game. When the major labels talk about fortunes being made on the "backs" of their content, they have a point. An iPod (or iPhone) would be worth a lot less in the marketplace if it could only play songs purchased via iTunes. But that isn't the case. Virtually any song downloaded from Limewire will play on an iPod. Or an iPhone. And that makes iPods and iPhones more valuable. Now suppose iPhones could also find and play almost any song ever recorded (via something like Seeqpod). Wouldn't that make each iPhone even more valuable?

So what's next? According to Digital Music News, Seeqpod contends that it falls squarely within the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Milenium Copyright Act. Maybe. I suspect that Seeqpod is hoping to benefit from Google/YouTube's vigorous efforts to support a very similar argument in their battle with Viacom. It will be very interesting to see where this goes.

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