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亚马逊与谷歌推出云音乐存储服务?这个家伙早就听说过这类服务了。

Chadwick Matlin 2011年05月18日

音乐存储领域大战在即。但是,对于MP3Tunes公司创始人、数字音乐游戏领域的老手迈克尔•罗伯逊来说,这一切都并非什么新鲜事。

迈克尔•罗伯逊。图片来源:CrunchBase

    经过6年的等待,迈克尔•罗伯逊终于等到了他坚信终将来临的这一天。罗伯逊是MP3.com网站的前任首席执行官,也是数字音乐领域的领军人物。上周二,他从新闻中了解到:谷歌公司(Google)即将发布一项新服务,通过此服务,用户可以向云中上传其音乐。就在几周前,亚马逊公司(Amazon)也推出了相近产品云磁盘(Cloud Drive)服务。通过该服务,用户可依己所愿,在任何计算机、手机或者能连接到网络的留声机上,聆听他们自己上传的音乐,即使这些音乐作品并未存储在该设备上,也丝毫不影响他们聆听。多年之后,预言终成现实:罗伯逊眼见着,未来或者至少能让音乐无所不在的未来已经变成现实。

    只不过,罗伯逊早在5年前就已缔造了此未来。彼时,他一手创建了MP3Tunes.com。该网站的功能与今天谷歌及亚马逊的云存储服务大同小异。但是,只有当声名显赫的大公司发布同类产品时,才会引起消费者的注意。“这类事一向令人感到灰心丧气:每次微软公司(Microsoft)挠下鼻子,大家都会因此大书特书一番;每次谷歌变个发型,大家都会大书特书一番;每次亚马逊有所动作,大家都会大书特书一番。”罗伯逊表示。

    当然,并非只有MP3Tunes才会遭此不幸。对于许多初创公司而言,只有当大型公司借用了他们的理念时,他们也才会有出头之日。但是,罗伯逊的方针是绝不妥协出局。他走的是条叛逆之路。

    对罗伯逊而言,这也绝非什么新鲜事。与唱片公司打官司似乎是他的爱好。不然他为何重蹈覆辙,一再与他们对簿公堂?1997年,他创建了MP3.com。公司成立不久,就开始与人对簿公堂,为的是捍卫该网站的一贯做法,即如果某个消费者能够证明她购买了某张音乐光盘,她就有权从MP3.com得到其中任一首歌的数字版。2000年,MP3.com 与环球音乐集团(Universal Music Group)达成庭外和解,同意支付对方5,430万美元,以访问后者的歌曲库。MP3Tunes所走的路与此如出一辙。过去几年中,罗伯逊一直与百代公司(EMI)为一桩诉讼案打得难解难分,皆因后者声称MP3Tunes侵犯了其版权,并且要求有权访问MP3Tunes的用户数据库。一个小法庭判定MP3Tunes部分胜诉,但是,该案目前仍在审理中。

    这一切都不能阻止罗伯逊,他要证明MP3Tunes走的是条正义之路。事实上,此类遭遇反而坚定了他的信心。罗伯逊表示,与唱片公司之间的斗争,不仅是我们这个时代最为重要的一项事业,也是一场具有决定意义的法律之战。据报道,罗伯逊曾就百代一案表示:“如果我们输了,整个在线音乐存储业也将不复存在。”正是由于这类绝不妥协的极端言辞,他已经成为一场新兴运动的领袖。如今,谷歌和亚马逊也已融入到这场运动中来。而且,不久的将来,苹果公司(Apple)很可能也会步这二者的后尘。

    迄今,谷歌仍然采取的是比较友好的立场,尽管其内容合作伙伴关系总监发表过如下声明:“(不过)少数几家主要唱片公司非但不专注于创新,反而不断提出不合理且不具可持续性的商业条款。”但罗伯逊可没这么友好。经过多年法庭之战的历练,他已经成长为一名为消费者利益而战的坚定改革者。他已破釜沉舟,誓与音乐行业不合作的态度斗争到底。在亚马逊和谷歌相继推出云音乐服务之后,他在TechCrunch和Silicon Alley Insider上撰文,诉说了这一行业的种种艰辛。上述两个科技博客网站是IT动态的风向标,它们的作用,大致相当于一家《财富》美国500强(Fortune 500)公司的首席执行官在《华尔街日报》(Wall Street Journal)上发表一篇专栏文章达到的力度。此外,在他自己的网络日志中,罗伯逊甚至声称,他们面临的问题是个普遍性的问题。“如果MP3tunes在自己的服务器上存储音乐文件不合法,那么谷歌在其服务器上存储音乐文件也不合法,即便他们采用的是电子邮件的形式。”

    理论上讲,上述一切努力均有助于吸引人们使用MP3Tunes的云服务。事实上,该服务尽管处于行业先进水平,但其弊端也同样令人气愤。通过MP3Tunes的应用编程接口(API),用户几乎可以从任何设备上聆听自己先前上传的音乐。无论谷歌还是亚马逊的产品,目前都无法做到这一点。但是,实际将音乐上传到MP3Tunes服务器耗时漫长。我试着上传了几首歌曲,每首都花了我好几分钟的时间。罗伯逊对此解释说,那是因为我用的是有线宽带连接。这种网络连接方式以其上传速度之慢而闻名。大牌公司的产品也会遭遇同样的麻烦。由于上传音乐速度之慢已成了此类服务的瓶颈,另一个云媒体存储服务厂商MiMedia决定给用户寄一块硬盘,让他们将自己喜爱的音乐存储到硬盘中,再将之寄回给MiMedia公司,由公司将这些文件存放到云中。

    MP3Tunes在成立6年之后,用户总数依然不足百万,原因也皆出于此。罗伯逊只肯告知此用户总数,而不愿透露每月的活跃用户数。而且,即便亚马逊和谷歌等大牌公司已染指此行业,云音乐服务可能仍然永远无法在消费者中真正普及开来,至少如果多数美国人使用的宽带连接,虽然下载速度已如公路般畅通无阻,但上传速度却仍如乡间土路般慢如蜗牛的话。但是,现在人们已开始关注这一问题。谷歌公司已有所行动。该公司在堪萨斯州的堪萨斯城启动了一个小型试验项目,该项目拥有庞大的光纤传输容量,能提供迅捷的传输速度。

    对于罗伯逊而言,如果说眼看着财大气粗的知名IT公司循着他多年前的足迹前进有什么益处的话,那就是扩大自身公司的知名度。“这些大公司介入此业务的好处在于,《财富》杂志会因此对我进行电话采访。”罗伯逊表示。(编者注:2003年,《财富》曾对罗伯逊进行过报道。)虽然时隔6年,但罗伯逊的公司终于熬出了头。当然,前提是:法官不做出令其出局的裁决。

    译者:大海

    After six years of waiting, the day Michael Robertson always knew would arrive finally got around to arriving. On Tuesday Robertson, the former CEO of MP3.com and general digital music gadfly, read the news that Google (GOOG) was releasing a service that allowed people to upload their music to the cloud. A few weeks earlier, Amazon (AMZN) had released its own product, Cloud Drive, that let people listen to their music on whatever computer/phone/web-connected phonograph they wanted, even if the music wasn't actually stored on that device. After years of promises it seems the future, or at least the one that involves omnipresent music, has finally become the present.

    Except Robertson built that future five years ago. That's when he self-funded MP3Tunes.com, a site that does more or less exactly what Google and Amazon's cloud lockers do. And yet it's the big guys' debut that garners the attention. "It's always a bit frustrating because every time Microsoft (MSFT) scratches their nose, everbody writes about them. Every time Google changes their hair, everybody writes about them. Every time Amazon does something everybody writes about them," Robertson says.

    This is, of course, not a problem unique to MP3Tunes. Many startups' only vote of confidence comes when a bigger company copies its idea. But Robertson appears to have a strategy to not get swept under. He's going vigilante.

    It's not a new affect for Robertson. Fighting lawsuits from the music industry appears to be a hobby. Why else would he keep return to the same record record labels' litigation had already tainted it? In 1997, he founded MP3.com, and soon thereafter was in court, defending the site's habit of giving people the rights to a digital copy of a song if she could prove she bought the CD. (MP3.com settled with Universal Music Group for $54.3 million in 2000.) MP3Tunes has been no different. For the past few years he's been battling a lawsuit from EMI, which claims copyright infringement and requested access to the lockers of MP3Tunes users. A small court gave MP3Tunes a partial victory, but the case is ongoing.

    None of this has stopped him from moralizing MP3Tunes' cause. In fact, it's only encouraged it. According to Robertson, the struggle against the record labels is one of the defining business and legal battles of our time. About EMI's suit against MP3Tunes, Robertson reportedly said, "If we lose, the whole notion of online music storage goes away." All-or-nothing comments like those have made him the leader of a fledgling movement that now includes Google and Amazon, and likely Apple in the near future.

    But while Google is still trying to play relatively nice (even with statements like these from its director of content partnerships: "[But] a couple of major labels were less focused on innovation and more on demanding unreasonable and unsustainable business terms."), Robertson is not. Honed by years of lawsuits, he's fashioned himself into a crusader for the consumer, determined to overcome the music industry's reluctance. After Amazon and Google's cloud music services were released, he wrote posts on TechCrunch and Silicon Alley Insider (which, as tech status symbols go, are the diluted equivalent of a Fortune 500 CEO publishing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal) about the hurdles for the industry. And in posts on his own blog, he makes his problem the world's problem. "If it's illegal for MP3tunes to store music files on its servers then it's illegal for Google to store music files in its servers too - even if they're email."

    All of this effort theoretically helps attract people to MP3Tunes' actual service, which is as advanced as it is maddening. You can listen to the music you upload from nearly any device, thanks to MP3Tunes' API. That's something that neither Google nor Amazon let you do. But actually getting that music up into MP3Tunes takes a ton of time. The few tracks I uploaded took a few minutes each. Robertson told me it was because I was using a cable broadband connection, which is notorious for slow upload speeds. The same issue will affect the established companies, as well. (The slow upload problem is so significant that MiMedia, another media storage service in the cloud, sends subscribers a hard drive that they can then load up with tunes and send back to the company to put onto the cloud.)

    That kind of hurdle is why MP3Tunes, despite six years on the market, still has fewer than 1 million users. And that's total users. Robertson wouldn't share how many are still active on a monthly basis. And it's why, even with the size of Amazon and Google's bully pulpits, cloud music may never quite takeoff for consumers, at least not while most Americans' broadband connections resemble a highway for downloading, but a country road for uploading. But now, people are paying attention. Google, with its huge fiber-optic capacity and high-speed pilot project in Kansas City, Kansas, is paying attention.

    If there's any benefit for Robertson in watching established tech companies following his years-old footsteps, it's exposure. "There is this benefit that once the big boys start getting into the business, then Fortune gives me a call," Robertson says. [Editor's Note: Fortune ran a profile of Robertson back in 2003.] It may have taken six years, but Robertson's company is finally back on the map. Assuming, of course, a judge's verdict doesn't sweep it right off.

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