Michael Robertson does it again

Mike Masnick at Techdirt definitely has a point: mp3.com and Linspire (formerly Lindows) founder Michael Robertson does seem to have a way of getting sued. I’m not convinced that it’s a deliberate strategy on Robertson’s part, as the Techdirt post suggests, but it certainly seems to happen with alarming regularity. I guess that’s what happens when you spend most of your time trying to drag the record companies kicking and screaming into a new business model. The latest suit is from EMI, which has a long and tangled history with the entrepreneur.

michael.jpgThe first go-round came with mp3.com — and in particular a service called MyMp3, which allowed you to upload your music to the company’s servers and stream it from anywhere. Even though the service checked to see whether you had the right to the CDs you were uploading, the record companies saw it as unauthorized copying and therefore copyright infringement and sued. Universal later acquired the assets of the company (CNET bought the domain name). After launching a Linux-based competitor to Windows (and being sued by Microsoft), Michael Robertson launched another online music venture called mp3tunes.com, with a number of features. In addition to the ability to store music online and stream it to anywhere, the site allows users to “sideload” songs from other websites, in effect, transferring them to an online locker run by mp3tunes. This works for songs acquired legally, but also apparently for songs acquired illegally.

And so, another lawsuit: EMI says that Robertson is effectively trying to do much the same thing he did before. And that’s not all the lawsuits, either. In addition to mp3tunes, the entrepreneur started another service called AnywhereCD.com earlier this year, which allowed users to buy CDs and have them shipped — but also allowed them to download mp3 versions of the songs right away, in DRM-free format.

One of the service’s original partners was Warner Music, but that deal fell through within days of the launch (as I wrote here) because WMG didn’t like the DRM-free download option. There were suits and countersuits, and while the two sides eventually settled, the venture wound up going under. One thing is for sure: music fans may be getting screwed in various ways, but the lawyers are making out like bandits.


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