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Apple iCloud -- Amnesty for Music Pirates?

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Well, we finally have it. Music like water raining down from the sky. iCloud.

For slightly more than $2/mo everybody will soon have access to all the music they can find, steal, share, rip, produce, morph or buy using iTunes Match. Is this amnesty for all the music pirates? I hope so.

As we predicted in The Future of Music, the future is about access to music rather than ownership. With Apple iCloud and iTunes Match, Apple has once again set the bar for all music distributors, while again lining up all the major record labels for yet another lunch. The twist to all of this is -- does iCloud grant you immunity from prosecution for copyright infringement for sharing or downloading music however you wish to? We shall see.

Fantasize with me as we did in 2005...

It's the year 2015 and you wake to a familiar tune playing softly. It gets you out of bed and makes you feel good. As you walk into the bathroom, your Personal Media Minder activates the video display in the mirror, and you watch a bit of personalized news while you get ready for the day. You step into the shower and your personalized music program is ready for you, cued up with a new live version of a track that you downloaded the other day. It is even better than the original recording, so while you dress, you tell your "TasteMate" program to include the new track in your playlist rotation.

You put on your new eyeglasses, which contain a networked audio headset, letting tiny earbuds slip into your ears. You switch on the power, and the mix that your friend made for you starts to play. Music pours into your consciousness. It becomes yours.

During the day, your headset and other wireless devices help you communicate across the network, with your friends, associates, network buddies, and "digital peers." The headset also keeps you connected to that hard rock collection that you really love to listen to. Meanwhile, a variety of new songs, new versions, and remixes of tracks you truly dig, along with your old favorites, continues to come your way. Using TasteMate, you access and trade playlists, and recommend a couple of songs to your friend in Seattle, and they get added to his rotation. Music propels you throughout the day.

This is the future of music -- a future in which music will be like water: ubiquitous and free flowing. In this future, music will be ubiquitous, mobile, shareable, and as pervasive and diverse as the human cultures that create it. Many of the already ill-fitting definitions of copyright and intellectual property and patent laws will be adapted to fit the "music like water" model that we propose -- in a way that ensures the enjoyment and benefit of society as a whole, and that allows all involved parties to prosper.

David Bowie encapsulated the current state of affairs in a June 2002 New York Times article:

The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within ten years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it's not going to happen. I'm fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in ten years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing. Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. [ . . . ] So it's like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You'd better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that's really the only unique situation that's going to be left. It's terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn't matter if you think it's exciting or not; it's what's going to happen . . ."

Let's run the numbers. As I outlined in Forbes, with hundreds of millions of people connected to digital networks, the potential annual revenue stream for this is enormous. At $25 per person, if 200 million people opted in for iTunes Match, the service would gross $5 billion just for the ability to provide access to any song on any device, and let you pirate all the music you want to at will. Add to that the money from new songs you purchase, premium access, increased storage, exclusive concerts -- and the recording industry may see a bottom to its revenue decline, and could begin to rebuild from there. Seem counterintuitive? The record business will never be the same again, but maybe (just maybe) it will not go extinct.

And it remains to be seen if iTunes Match will grant you complete immunity from prosecution for copyright infringement. Kind of like AppleCare for pirates. There are lots of moving parts to this story.

Welcome to the future.