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Music Service at MIT Hits a Snag

October 31, 2003|Jon Healey | Times Staff Writer

A novel music service at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that was designed to let students play songs on demand without running afoul of the labels and music publishers has run afoul of the labels and publishers.

The student-designed service lets listeners take turns playing songs through the university's cable TV network. The unconventional approach, meant to avoid costly royalties, drew plaudits from legal experts for delivering essentially free music without violating copyright laws.

There was just one problem. Music industry executives say Loudeye Corp., the company supplying the students' service with songs, didn't have the right to do so. As a consequence, the service launched Monday without some of the clearances from the copyright holders.

MIT on Thursday agreed to reconfigure the Library Access to Music Project and remove songs from at least one of the major record companies while it negotiates directly with the labels and publishers.

"MIT at all times has sought to obtain a legal music service for its students and had relied on Loudeye to provide MIT with authorized content and for Loudeye to facilitate and obtain the appropriate licenses," MIT officials said late Thursday.

Loudeye pointed the finger at MIT.

"We provided content to MIT," Loudeye publicist Stan Raymond said. "We did not provide licenses for them to issue that content."

Under federal law, labels are entitled to royalties from on-demand services only if they transmit music digitally. The MIT system transmits songs through an analog cable TV system.

Kelly Mullens, a spokeswoman for Vivendi Universal's Universal Music Group, said, "It is unfortunate that MIT launched a service in an attempt to avoid paying recording artists, union musicians and record labels. Loudeye recognized that they had no right to deliver Universal's music to the MIT service, and MIT acted responsibly by removing the music."

Mullens said Universal looked forward to working out a solution with MIT.

A spokeswoman for the Harry Fox Agency, which represents music publishers, said her firm also hoped to resolve the dispute quickly. Neither Loudeye nor MIT has a license from Fox, she said.

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