October 29, 2005
../ MP3Tunes Imports DVD-Jon For Secret Oboe Project
Lawyers, Start Your Engines!
Jon Lech Johansen , AKA "DVD-Jon", the brilliant 21 year old programmer
is now working for San Diego based MP3Tunes, a private company captained by Michael Robertson who founded MP3.com. The hiring of Johansen has
raised the eyebrows of many content companies who have come to fear his reverse engineering genius. Both Johansen and Robertson have the propensity
to thumb their nose at the establishment, which could make the pairing a double threat.
Jon Lech Johansen, AKA "DVD-Jon" telling the MPAA where they can stick their Discs
In 1999, DVD Jon invoked the wrath of the Motion Picture Association of America
when he posted a crack on his website, at the age of 15, that allowed users to copy DVD's onto their computers. The MPAA strong-armed the
Norwegian authorities to prosecute Johansen for copyright infringement. Instead of pleading to a lesser charge or being apologetic,
Johansen stuck it to "the man." He continued to post cracks on his website, So Sue Me,
that allows consumers "fair use" of their purchased content. He was tried in Oslo in 2002 and 2003, and
acquitted of all charges both times, because prosecutors couldn't prove
that his software was used for "illegal purposes."
Michael Robertson is ready for yet another legal rumble.
Michael Robertson is an excellent self-promoter who gained fame in the early days of
the Internet when he announced to the major labels, "your business is dead." Instead of revolutionizing the digital music space, MP3.com
became a trailer park of mediocre music with no real means of generating revenue. The music industry traditionalists thought he would
simply go away when he ran out of money, but his insanely successfully IPO loaded
MP3.com's coffers and added rocket fuel to his motor mouth.
Even without a business model, Robertson moved forward with lightning speed, hiring
an army of technicians to develop something that could actually bring in revenue. Meanwhile any musician who's Mom said, "you could be star"
registered on the site and uploaded their creations. In 2000, Robertson's team then came up with a solid premise based on the idea of a universal
jukebox, dubbed Beam-It. The idea, create a networked personal Jukebox that could
be accessed by its owner anywhere at anytime via the Internet, was a "hit" and 500,000 people downloaded the application.
However, instead of everyone uploading their entire library, which would have commanded
massive storage requirements, MP3.com "authenticated" the CD in the users drive and then allowed them access to a universal copy. Although, this
logical process seems tame by today's standards, it was just what the major labels were waiting for.
Robertson's MP3.com received an unprecedented legal ass-kicking by dozens of major and
independent music labels when it was ruled infringement and not fair use. With $170 billion in potential liability, MP3.com was sold to Vivendi's Universal
and then to CNET.
So what are Robertson and Johansen "composing" with Oboe? Neither would comment for
this story, but many point to their shared hatred of Apple's iTunes and its FairPlay digital rights management. The Johansen/Robertson team has
already released a program called BadApple on badfruit.com that allows
iTunes to transfer songs to other portable music players besides the iPod, but there is no mention of it on
MP3tunes.com, a mediocre recreation of the original MP3.com where you must pay $30
bucks a year to upload your "music." Could Robertson's vision of a celestial jukebox come
to fruition via Johansen's brilliance?
The Future: A online "iTunes" where you could access your entire database of music
from any high-speed connection would be a service that many would be willing to pay for, but it would definitely create more legal entanglements. However,
this time Robertson may have learned his lesson after betting the farm on Beam-It. By side-stepping the legal pitfalls that did in MP3.com, Robertson may
be able to realize his dream.
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