Fair use, mashups, and profits – why hasn’t anyone figured this out yet?

Lots of us love music and we love to share it; I think that’s even more powerful than simply “grab lots of music for free”—it’s the sharing that excites us, motivates us.  Music is a shared experience!

Why, then, hasn’t anyone made it easy to share music snippets legally from a simple iframe, a simple widget that someone can cut and paste or even drag and drop into their blog?

Let me give an example of how painful it is to share (within, IMHO, fair use) a music snippet:
1) Identify song you want to share with others.  Determine that it’s DRM’d.  Ack!
2) Remove DRM (yes, I know this may technically be illegal, but frankly I don’t give a damn.  Call it civil disobedience)
3) Use software to grab a relevant thirty second snippet and save it as an mp3.  Make sure tags are still embedded.
4) Upload to server.
5) Before all of this, download and install a good flash player so others can listen to your snippet whether on a Mac or PC.
6) Embed the appropriate code into your blog entry.

Check out this entry on the emotional wallop of strings for an example of the result. 

I think it took me at least 20 minutes just to prepare, upload, and post this one clip.  Does that sound very conducive to sharing to you?!

So you know what massively puzzles me?  Why on earth hasn’t any major player (Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, Apple, etc.) made this process easier… not only facilitating the discovery and sharing of music by the increasingly powerful blogosphere, but increasing subscriptions and download sales?!  Let me explain how I envision this working…

What the blogger / music lover does:
1) Blogger goes to associates.amazon.com or embed.rhapsody.com or whatever and looks up an album or specific track.
2) They then selects an embed method (php include, javascript, iframe, etc.) and optionally set other customizable widget options.
3) If not already logged in, they enter in their subscription ID or affiliate ID so they can get credit from referred subscriptions and purchases.
4) They copy the specified HTML and paste it into their blog, along with (hopefully) personal comments.

What the person visiting the blog sees:
A simple mini-player widget that contains a play button and a short description of the clip (title, artist, album), along with links to:
– “Learn more about this artist, album, or song”
– “Purchase this song” (on iTunes, Rhapsody, etc.)
– “Subscribe to service for unlimited listening to 3 million songs” (again, on Rhapsody, Napster, etc.)

* * *

Of course, even cooler would be all the online music folks coming together to make a common standard of some sort, so this widget could actually have a small pulldown menu enabling listeners to buy the tune on or subscribe to their preferred online music service.

So why hasn’t any of this happened? Some guesses:
– Music services are shortsighted and want to more tightly (and obnoxiously) control the listening experiences.
– Music services are scared crapless of lawsuits; despite the fact that any sane person would envision 30 seconds being pretty much fair use, the RIAA would probably sue anyway.
– Fears over brand tarnishing (putting the names of artists and music services on splog sites featuring child porn, for instance)

I’m skeptical about the third issue, though. After all, Amazon seemingly lets pretty much anyone embed jpegs of book covers or album covers on raunchy or spammy sites.

* * *

So, what to do in the meantime?
If I wanted to be lazy AND give the finger to non-Windows-users, I could just link to Amazon.com clips, for instance, like this clip of “Where Does the Wayward Footwear Go?” from The Bobs. But that’s pretty inelegant, and it also depends upon Amazon:
– having the song I want to show off
– including a decent snippet
– not changing the URL or blocking folks from accessing it off the Amazon.com domain

And, to be fair, it’s not a very attractive option for Amazon.com. I mean, what do they get out of it? No potential sales, no branding (except from my arbitrary mention), etc. And unless I manually create a link to the album (“Songs For Tomorrow Morning” ), it’s not even easy for the listener to learn more about the album or group, much less purchase the CD. In other words, it’s a lousy experience for everyone.

Surely there’s got to be a better way?!

— –

Update at 12:58am the next day:
Hmm… well, there’s Napsterlinks.

– They require people to register with Napster before hearing any music (even a 30 second snippet)
– Each registered user can hear a track only three times total (which is reasonable, IMHO)
– The embedded widget doesn’t allow one to fast-forward in a song, nor can it contain multiple tracks (much less an album). Just one track per widget :(.
– There seems to be a bug whereby any page with the widget on it never finishes loading. Weird.

So, unsurprisingly, napsterlinks are seemingly quite unpopular (I had never actually seen them in the wild, and doing a blogsearch yielded just a tiny handful in existence). Such a lost opportunity!

And Rhapsody? Sure, you can listen to free tracks with them, but…
– You’re limited to 25 total plays per month (kinda stingy).
– You have to download and install their plugin (not too time consuming, though)
– The player window can’t be embedded :-(.
– Any click to play a song opens BOTH the player window and a full-sized Rhapsody page. Boo!

Obviously NOT a decent experience for bloggers :(.

So, hey, music services… we’re still waiting. Yahoo? Apple?…


  1. Hi Adam,

    Your frustration with the restrictions on fair use for music bring back memories.  For a long time, I puzzled over why fair use for songs is limited to two measures.  Then I realized that many commercail spots are thirty seconds or less.  So in that context, free use of thirty seconds of someone’s song does not seem fair.  How is a blog diferent from an advertisement?  They usually come with ads.  Why shouldn’t the copyright holders expect to be compensated for your use of their song to spice up your site and attract advertisers?  But if you ask me, I think that you are right about copyright holders missing out on a lot of opportunities for free advertising.  They already let people listen to predetermined sections of songs on iTunes in hopes of luring the listener into purchasing the song.  If your use of the a portion of the song on your blog linked to iTunes or equivalent as you suggest, then I think your idea could be successful in gaining voluntary participation from copyright holders.  They make a portion of theior song available for you to select all or part thereof, and you provide a link on your site to the selected song section and an opportunity to purchase the song.  Brilliant!  Genius!  Now if you only worked at Apple.:0)

  2. Jennifer, a belated thanks for the kind words and encouragement (whew… I’m NOT crazy :-P)

    Jamie, thanks for the heads-up on Deezer.  Just played with it and created an account.  Some thoughts:
    – Very fast and easy registration process.  Only bummer:  it defaults to allowing Deezer partners to send me junk mail, and alas… in my haste, I hit submit without unchecking that box.  Now I’m dreading an onslaught 🙁
    – Ability to upload any MP3 and instantly be able to embed it in my blog!

    – I worry about the longevity of this site… both due to revenue issues (or, rather, lack of revenues) and also U.S. copyright issues; I can’t imagine the RIAA being thrilled that I can upload ANY song and instantly share it with the world on my blog :(.
    – It’s not yet very streamlined; we can only upload one song at a time, and we have to enter in all song info ourselves.
    – Not a great selection so far… and indeed, imeem seems to have deezer beat on this point.

    Anyway, thanks again for the info!  I’ll definitely look forward to playing with Deezer some more 😀

  3. Well music is in my soul, i am currently posting this comment on your great blog while listening the music. Adam, i also would like to become a googler but for that i know i need to work hard, i really do work for 18 hours or more than that a day, to get every thing which i want and whatever i dream, and one and only thing which keeps me fresh and stress free is MUSIC.
    One good link i would like to give you reader hopefully you would like that.
    Mp3 Songs

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