On April 28, Last.fm will shut down its subscription radio stream. That means the company won’t be streaming content through its own servers, just third party stuff, mostly from YouTube and Spotify. “We understand that many of you will not like this decision,” a Last.fm forum post announced on Wednesday. A flood of Last.fm users agreed.
“You’re complete screwing over Canadian listeners,” one complained:
“We don’t have access to Spotify or Pandora, etc. Last.Fm was the only decent service available. As an American living in Canada where everything is off limits or more expensive for some inexplicable reason (other than the CTRC), this is an especially low blow.
I’m really sad. I’m going to have to figure out where I’m going to listen to music. I will no longer subscribe after this month, what is the point? I guess I’ll try Deezer or get an American IP.”
The “get an American IP” generically refers to availing oneself of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) server to make Spotify or Pandora think that it is in the United States or somewhere else where it is available. Why no Pandora in Canada? “Astronomical” royalty fees, says Pandora founder Tim Westergren. Thus there are websites like “How to Get It In Canada” which offer instructions on how to use VPN sites like “Hide My Ass” to access Pandora, Spotify, and other Internet audio/video goodies (I’m not endorsing or recommending these services, just noting their existence).
Canadians are understandably tetchy about all this. Late last year The Wall Street Journal ran a piece about Spotify expansion in 20 countries. Somehow the article included Canada. “You might want to fact check the claim that Canada is one of Spotify’s largest markets,” one reader quickly chimed in. “Spotify is not currently nor has ever been available in Canada. The only way to access Spotify from Canada is to use a VPN or proxy to hide the fact you are in Canada.”
What’s particularly unfortunate about all this is that Last.fm is still popular. Last week we noted a music sharing application tweet counter that placed Last.fm at number three in Twitter mention popularity over the last year and a half or so. This further confirms my already fairly strong perception that copyright and performance royalty rates are the lead ceiling hanging over Internet radio’s head—to some extent a form of protectionism for AM/FM radio.
In a related development, Digital Music News (or as I affectionately call the site, “Rightsholder Music News”) reports that SoundCloud is involved “in serious licensing discussions with major labels and publishers.” Sources? They will “remain confidential,” DMN says. This disclosure was followed by some venting over the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
“The rules are pretty simple: as long as a process exists to eliminate content that is flagged by the content owner, SoundCloud steers clear of any legal entanglements. The only problem is that rights owners are responsible for notifying SoundCloud each and every time an infraction occurs, which is essentially impossible .
But sources insist there are serious steps that labels can take, and according to one of the sources, major labels are not at all comfortable with the ‘DMCA funny business’ arrangement anymore. ‘Their [catalog] is all over SoundCloud, and it’s essentially too hard to police but that doesn’t mean they won’t start ,’ the source relayed. ‘If you look at what’s happening over at Google and YouTube, you have [groups like] the [British recording trade group] BPI flooding Google and YouTube with takedown notices’.”
Unlike YouTube, with its considerable staff, SoundCloud doesn’t have the personnel to handle a DMCA takedown notice flood, DMN’s source added: “They aren’t pulling from a pile of billions, which means everything in legal terms,” and so “they can be touched.”
Meanwhile, for those of you unsympathetic to my sympathies for the Internet music streamers, here’s your story. The Street‘s Rocco Pendola has a rant over Pandora as its CTO Tom Conrad prepares to leave. Pendola calculates that since April of 2012 Conrad has “generated proceeds of $43,332,556 mainly by exercising his Pandora employee stock options”—the number estimated via repeated automatic sales over the last two years.
“I’ve never been one to cry a river for musicians and a record industry that claims Pandora’s ripping them off,” Pendola opines:
“I tend to agree with Pandora—the music industrial complex focuses too squarely on royalties, ignoring how the exposure Pandora provides and the data it collects can help market and monetize music in unprecedented and prolific ways.
But what rubs me the wrong away is that, as Conrad, Westergren and others enrich themselves as individuals, they cry poor speaking on behalf of Pandora the company.”
And if that wasn’t enough to get your juices flowing, check out Andrew Leonard’s piece in Salon: “Big Brother is in your Spotify: How music became the surveillance state’s Trojan horse.” Or don’t. After all, the title sort of says it all. Happy listening folks!
We cover social music sharing communities every Monday in our Internet DJ feature.