Last month Amazon announced the launch of its new cloud based music service called Cloud Drive. A “cloud” allows one to save files online and access those files from any computer or mobile device, thus taking away the need to save files on a hard-drive, USB or other portable device. Clouds have been referred to as an online storage locker. Consumers who use the service will be allowed to lease space from Amazon’s servers and can download content into the cloud as well as stream from it. Amazon also has included an option to download or stream onto an Android phone if they purchased the phone through Amazon or have the Amazon MP3 app on their Android. iPhone users do not have access to this app. A user can listen to the music through Amazon’s Cloud Player if it is saved on one’s phone or can download or stream the songs from your phone or computer with a Wifi or internet connection.
The service does allow users to upload previously purchased music into the cloud, by downloading “the uploader tool” which allows Amazon to search your hard drive — including your iTunes folder — and asks if you want to upload the MP3s it finds to your Cloud Drive. There are restrictions however as to what type of music file can be uploaded. The service will only allow a user to upload MP3 or AAC files as long as those files are DRM-free and are not larger than 100 Mega-Bytes. Non-music files such as: ringtones, audio book files, and podcasts cannot be uploaded into the cloud.
The service is free for the first 5 gigabytes that the user stores. Any files that are purchased directly from Amazon are stored for free and do not count against the 5 gigs. A user is entitled to an additional 20 gigs, if the user buys 1 MP3 album from Amazon’s website. Otherwise the user can purchase one gigabyte for $1.
Currently Amazon has no agreements with any of the major labels or music publishers to allow them to implement the service. It begs the question as to whether the service is legal. Amazon argues that since the cloud only allows people to hold the music rather than copying it via download it does not infringe on anyone’s copyright. But if one uploads the files into the cloud, which in essence amounts to copying the files, one must ask if that amounts to an illegal reproduction. Attorneys for Amazon have claimed that uploading files into the cloud qualifies as “Fair Use” under the Copyright Act. Under the Copyright act, certain uses are exempt from copyright. For example uses for education, new reporting and commentary are considered fair use and reproductions of a work for these uses are not considered infringement. This controversy may result in later litigation by the labels. Sony has made a public statement saying they are angered by Amazon’s decision not to obtain licenses before launching the service. What the labels decide to do next remains to be seen.