Founder Details Launch of

Michael Robertson, the founder of what was once the No. 1 music site on the web, is hoping for a comeback with a new online music store.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

February 3, 2005

3 Min Read

Michael Robertson, the founder of what was once the No. 1 music site on the web, is hoping for a comeback with an online music store that's scheduled to launch next week.

Robertson, now chief executive of desktop-Linux distributor Linspire Inc., plans to unveil at the Desktop Summit conference in San Diego Feb. 10.

Like his original music site launched in 1997, Robertson's latest creation, which he is funding with his own money, will offer music in MP3 format, without copyright-protection technology. For the consumer, that means the music can be played on any device that supports the standard and can be copied on an unlimited number of CDs.

Under those conditions, it's not surprising that none of the major record labels have licensed their music to Robertson. Instead, he has built a catalog of 200,000 tracks licensed from small labels and independent artists.

Robertson believes consumers are getting a raw deal with Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes music store, as well as with online music services that support copyright protection software from Microsoft Corp. Songs from iTunes only play on Apple's iPod music player, while the other services' music play only on hardware supporting Microsoft's technology.

"Our message to consumers is, if you pay for music, you should be able to copy it to any device that you want," Robertson said. "There's a paradox today that if you steal your (MP3) music from file-sharing sites, then you can use it anyway you want. But if you pay for the music, then you get it with all kinds of restrictions and limitations.

"That has to turn around to really energize consumers."

Robertson's logic, however, tends to run counter to some independent research. Most consumers have no problem buying music for a particular hardware device. In fact, the hardware is driving most legal music downloads today, not the service, Joe Wilcox, analyst for market researcher JupiterResearch, said. The best example of this phenomenon is the market-leading Apple iPod.

Copyright protection also isn't a problem, as long as the technology doesn't get in the way.

"Consumers absolutely want the rights protection to be damn near invisible," Wilcox said.

Nevertheless, Robertson believes that lots of people would prefer not being tied to a particular music player or file format, and would welcome the opportunity for more freedom in the devices they choose. In addition, he believes record labels will eventually have to come around, since it's unlikely people will stop downloading music for free from file-sharing networks.

"If it's on the Internet in MP3 format already, why not make money on it," Robertson said.

Robertson plans to sell individual songs on for 88 cents, and albums for $8.88, which is a dime and a dollar less, respectively, than most online music stores.

At its height, Robertson's portal was the No. 1 music site on the web with 3 million hits a month. In 2000, however, a federal court ruled that a portion of the service violated copyright law by allowing songs from commercial CDs to be downloaded.

Robertson sold to Vivendi Univeral, which sold it in 2003 to C/Net.

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