[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Wednesday, Sept. 15.]
Staff Writer Chris Nelson writes:
Time flies on the Internet.
Less than a year ago, the Recording Industry Association of America sued
to keep the Rio portable MP3 digital-music player off store shelves. The
action was the strongest salvo yet in a war to keep unauthorized copies
of music off the Net.
Fast forward to this summer: Major artists from Kid Rock, David Bowie,
Limp Bizkit, Mariah Carey, Marcy Playground and Tori Amos to Sarah
McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, Pavement, Public Enemy, Sugar Ray, Bush,
Jewel, Creed and Santana have released or are planning to release music
online in a variety of formats.
Puff Daddy issued several versions of his single "P.E. 2000" (
excerpt) in Liquid Audio format, while the Beastie Boys put out
three remixes in Microsoft's Windows Media format. Former Soundgarden
singer Chris Cornell released a cut in the once-taboo MP3 form.
From lawsuits to legal downloads: how did we get here?
Although we've got a long way to go until downloading or streaming music
is as common as buying CDs, many in the online industry say we're barreling
toward that goal faster than most people expected.
And many say the suit filed against Rio-maker Diamond Multimedia by the
RIAA set the gears a-turning.
"The Rio [suit] kicked everybody into motion," said Andrea Cook Fleming,
Liquid Audio's vice president for corporate marketing.
Lucas Graves, who analyzes the online and entertainment arenas for Jupiter
Communications, agreed. He said the lawsuit transformed the grassroots
hobby of MP3 downloading into front-page business news.
"Here was a phenomenon that was buried in the darker recesses of the
Internet, with, let's face it, not many people participating," he said.
"But the industry saw the potential to have its lunch eaten."
Diamond won the suit earlier this summer, and later both parties dismissed
their outstanding claims. By that point, the collaboration between music
and tech companies known as the Secure Digital Music Initiative had
completed a copy-protection standard for portable players like the Rio.
As co-participants of SDMI, Diamond and the RIAA were working side-by-side.
"The market was ahead of the music industry," David Watkins, president
of Diamond's RioPort spin-off company, said. "The lawsuit catalyzed the
record industry to push forward." (SonicNet's parent company, MTV
Networks Online, owns a portion of RioPort.)
While some tech companies such as RioPort say a music-industry change of
heart hastened the availability of music online, the RIAA says the
technology companies shifted their stance that downloadable music had to
come free of charge.
"In the past, tech companies said technology does what it does, get used
to it, find new ways to make money [using free downloadable music]," said
Cary Sherman, the RIAA's senior executive vice president and general
Partnerships with companies such as Microsoft and Liquid Audio now offer
artists and labels the choice to make downloads free or for purchase,
Nearly everyone agrees that the online music world is pushing forward
with a full head of steam, but it's barely begun to exploit widespread
digital distribution. Graves pointed out that downloadable songs constitute
just a fraction of the music distributed to consumers each year
and paid-for downloads, in turn, account for just a fraction of that
Even as the press and music industry focus on downloadable music, some
contend that streaming content which can be listened to, but not
saved will usurp downloading as the next important entertainment
Jim Griffin, chief executive officer of OneHouse, an online entertainment
consulting company, said the most important development of the past year
has been the adoption of the Wireless Application Protocol. WAP is a set
of standards to help devices such as cell phones be used for Internet
access. While some people envision houses with broadband Net connections,
Griffin is anticipating the same thing for wireless phones and Palm Pilots.
"There is no way that digital music can be seen without wireless," he
If the online music world continues to develop so quickly, we may get
that wireless access a lot sooner than we ever dreamed.
Marcy Playground singer John Wozniak said he's been using
the Internet since before some of his fans were born. "I was 8 years old.
My elementary school (Marcy Open School) had a terminal where I could
dial up a mainframe at the University of Minnesota and play weird text-based
games with my friends," he said in a statement announcing his band's
upcoming download promotion. Fans who preorder Marcy Playground's second
album, Shapeshifter, online will receive free temporary downloads
of all the cuts in the weeks leading up to the LP's November release.
"The computer which was basically just a really big typewriter
would start churning out text almost as fast as I could read it,"
Wozniak said. "It wasn't fast by today's standards, but it was incredibly
high tech for the day." ...
Indie rockers the Spells the duo of Sleater-Kinney's
Carrie Brownstein and Helium's Mary Timony
are offering a free MP3 this week of their cover of the Who's "I
Can't Explain" through online retailer Insound.com. ...
Punk label Kill Rock Stars has one free MP3 from nearly every artist who
has recorded an album for the label at killrockstars.com. The roster
includes Bikini Kill, Elliott Smith, Mary Lou Lord,
Unwound, Sleater-Kinney, Tight Bros From Way Back When
and more than three dozen others. ...
Former Talking Heads and Modern Lovers guitarist Jerry
Harrison has started an online music company. Garageband.com invites
musicians to post downloadable music to its site and plans to reward the
most popular bands with recording contracts. ...
Musicmaker.com, a custom-CD and download company that has rights to music
from Beastie Boys label home EMI, Backstreet Boys company
Zomba and Nine Inch Nails label TVT, said Tuesday that it would
begin selling its CDs and downloads through retailer Musicland this week.
More than 200,000 tracks will be available for custom discs through
Musicland's SamGoody.com, Suncoast.com and other sites. About half that
number of tracks will soon be available for purchase by download in Liquid
Audio, Windows Media and secure MP3 formats. ...
Tommy Olsen, a 17-year-old Swede who was sued for music piracy, is expected
to receive a decision in his case Wednesday (Sept. 15), a spokesperson
for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said. The
IFPI's Swedish arm sued Olsen for posting links on his website to
downloadable music across the Net.