Michael Robertson, a well-known technology entrepreneur, has tweaked the music industry for years. But in his latest copyright fight with EMI Music, the founder of MP3tunes.com could be betting all the marbles.
"EMI is suing me personally," Robertson said today. "My personal assets are on the line."
EMI, the smallest of the four top record companies, accused Robertson and MP3tunes.com of copyright infringement three years ago. Robertson filed for summary judgment on Friday, and that means the case is nearing an end. The judge still needs to hear from EMI and then allow both sides to comment on each other's summary judgment motions, so we likely won't get a decision until next year. But when a ruling does come in, the case could impact a large number of tech and media companies, including Apple and Google, according to Robertson.
Robertson, who saw his earlier music company, MP3.com (now operated by CNET), settle similar copyright litigation with the Recording Industry Association of America in 2000 for an amount reported to be about $75 million, said the most important issue this time is the right of consumers to store their digital media wherever and however they want.
EMI alleges in its copyright complaint that MP3tunes.com is little more than the cloud-computing equivalent of a stash box, where users store pirated music--songs they find with the help of Sideload.com, Robertson's audio search engine. Music industry sources say that Robertson's argument about protecting the cloud only obscures the real issue. They say that the case is far less sexy, run-of-the-mill copyright infringement.
MP3tunes.com enables users to obtain digital copies of songs they own from his servers and from any Web-enabled device. Music industry sources have said that Apple and Google are working on similar cloud storage services. Apple has built a server farm in North Carolina that will, in part, power a cloud storage offering.
"If I prevail, consumers will never have to worry about a format change ever again," Robertson said. "If they win, your media will be locked up and you're going to be forced to re-buy it and re-buy it. Once your media is in the cloud, you take it with you forever. I'm of the mind it's your content. It should work everywhere."