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Steve Jobs is expected to return from medical leave to announce a new music service at the Apple's annual developers conference on Monday. The service, called iCloud, is rumored to have been in the works for the last year. All indications are that, for the first time, the major record labels and music publishers have gotten behind a service that will let people tap into their entire iTunes collection, from almost any Internet-connected device.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL: People are getting more comfortable with storing and accessing content on the Internet, from photos to movies, says Forrester analyst Charles Golvin.

Mr. CHARLES GOLVIN (Senior Telecom Analyst, Forrester Research): This idea that my content doesn't have to be sitting on my hard drive or on my iPhone or on my other device for me to be able to access it, as long as I have a network connection I should be able to get to it.

SYDELL: On Monday, Apple will be the third big company to introduce a service that will let you access your music from so the so-called Cloud. Google and Amazon have introduced Cloud music services. But they've been a bit slow, says Golvin.

Mr. GOLVIN: With Google music service, it starts scanning your library and uploading songs in the background. And, of course, some of those will be available to you depending on which ones have started the upload.

SYDELL: And when you buy new music, you'll again have to go through the process of uploading before its accessible. There's a reason for that. Google and Amazon launched their services without agreements with the major record labels and music publishers.

Jeff Price is the CEO of the digital music company TuneCore.

Mr. JEFF PRICE (CEO, TuneCore): There are certain laws and procedures that have to be followed, and if they're not, it opens up anybody to huge amounts of legal liability where they can be sued out of existence.

SYDELL: Take a big hit like...

(Soundbite of song, I Will Always Love You

Ms. WHITNEY HOUSTON (Singer): (Singing) And I will always love you.

SYDELL: The song was written by Dolly Parton and sung by Whitney Houston for Columbia Records.

Mr. PRICE: You have a recording that actually has two copyrights to it one for the recording of the song, and that's owned by Columbia records, and the other for the song itself and that's owned by Dolly Parton.

SYDELL: Rights holders have been applying the same copyright laws to the online world. So, every time a streaming service like Pandora plays "I Will Always Love You," it pays royalties for the right to stream that song from its servers to your computer or mobile device.

So, without royalty agreements, Amazon and Google can't stream anything. Instead, they're in essence maintaining a hard drive for you in the cloud, where you access the music you've put there. By all accounts, Apple's service will work differently. Say you want to hear Adele's "Someone Like You." iCloud scans your iTunes collection, matches the ID for the song there with its iTunes ID and streams the song from Apple's locker.

(Soundbite of song, "Someone Like You)

ADELE (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) Never mind Ill find someone like you. I wish nothing but the best for you too.

SYDELL: Though other companies tried to reach agreements with the labels and publishers, Apple is reportedly the first company to make a deal with all four majors.

Forrester analyst Charles Golvin thinks that's because labels have already made money from Apple's iTunes store and Apple has the most popular music software.

Mr. GOLVIN: And the fact so many people have so much content invested in their iTunes libraries today that adding a service that they can monetize in some way then they see a revenue opportunity there that they may not see from someone like Google.

SYDELL: In other words, the music industry went with the devil it knows, even though the record companies have long complained about Apple's dominance of online music. Right now, theres a lot of unconfirmed speculation about what iCloud will offer. But, Gartner analyst Mike McGuire thinks it will have to offer extras to consumers to entice them to pay for the service - like being able to play an entire song or maybe even an album at least once before you buy it.

Mr. MIKE MCGUIRE (Analyst, Gartner): What extends this and makes it potentially more attractive to consumers is if they have that ability to do more sampling of full length albums or songs or things like that.

SYDELL: Apple's cloud service may also present the first opportunity for record labels and songwriters to collect money from unauthorized copies of songs. Because of the way iCloud works, when it matches a song ID in your collection with the ID in the iTunes data base, rights holders will get paid - most likely out of a fee Apple will charge users for the iCloud service.

Mr. MCGUIRE: And it's just based on what's in the users library not necessarily where they came from. You know, there may be some positive in that if theres a substantial amount of that content that came from the P2P source, that there may be a little recoupment, if you will, of some of those files that were distributed via P2P software.

SYDELL: Because Apple has had such success with so many of its music products, there is a lot of anticipation about iCloud. But, as McGuire and others point out, Apple has had its failures. It already has a cloud service for photos and other content called Mobile Me, and that's been a flop.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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