The legal and regulatory points are arcane and bone dry, but the implications for the future of file sharing are staggering. A little rethinking goes a long way, it would appear – this is very clever:
- A former McAfee CEO appears to have found a way around the legal minefield hindering anyone attempting to enter the music sharing market: by a licence to webcast content.
Mercora is a P2P – “person to person”, is how it defines the term – network that allows users to share songs without actually downloading them. It’s an approach the company dubs “P2P radio”.
The software allows users to share and catalogue digital photos, and provides instant messaging functionality too. But it’s focus is sharing music. Essentially, it streams the music files on a user’s hard drive out onto the Net. Other Mercora users can tune in and listen.
The company’s reckons it’s safe to do so because it has acquired a non-interactive digital audio webcasting licence as mandated by the notorious Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). “This license pertains to the digital performance rights of sound recordings and the associated reporting and royalty payments to SoundExchange (the independent non-profit organization that represents over 500 record companies and associated labels),” Mercora says.
“We have also obtained all US (and in some cases international) musical composition performance rights through our licenses with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.”
The upshot, it believes, is that “you (the end user) do not have to worry about… the reporting and royalty payments that are due to these various organizations”.
Next, the software “ensures that any webcasts you make satisfy various rules governing the statutory licence for non-interactive webcasting”. That includes “conforming to the sound recording performance complement, minimum duration for looped programming, identification of song, artist, and album,” etc.
This clearly involves a level of randomisation, since one of the company’s rules is that users aren’t allowed to tell anyone what they’re webcasting, or respond to requests for specific songs to be webcast. It’s that level of uncertainty in the programming that makes it possible to get away with all this using said “non-interactive” licence.
Mercora’s terms and conditions also insist that users may only include songs they’ve ripped from CDs they own or have acquired by downloading from a legal site. [The Register]
It is unclear how the system will generate revenue since it’s free to use and promises no ads. Here are the FAQs from the site:
- What is Mercora?
Mercora is a free program that uses peer-to-peer technology to help you create your own network on the Internet. It has features for person-to-person communication, collaboration, and entertainment. Mercora is pronounced Mer-co-ra and rhymes with “flora.”
So what’s so great about Mercora?
The main goal of our service is to take online communication and interaction to the next level, and in so doing, make your communications with friends and family more fun. Who you interact with is entirely up to you, but we give you an easy way to create your network online. We have combined some of the most compelling features of instant messaging, social networking, and peer to peer file sharing into a legal peer to peer social network. You need to try it to see….
How can I get it?
You start by clicking here to download the Mercora client application on your desktop and joining the Mercora Network. Downloading and installing the applications should only take you a few minutes.
What systems do you support?
We currently support PCs that are running Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Some might even work on some Windows 98 and ME machines but are still working through issues on these platforms.
How much does it cost?
What languages do you support?
Currently we only support English, but we are working on supporting other languages
Questions on Music & Broadcasting
Can I share music files on the network through peer-to-peer downloads?
No. We are not a music downloading service and you will not be able to download music files from other’s computers. However, you can listen to others’ music through webcasting (streaming).
What music can I listen to using Mercora?
You can listen to anything that others on the network are broadcasting. Think of the Mercora network as a giant webcasting radio station with lots of channels offering an unlimited variety of music. Using the Mecora client you can see what is currently being broadcast as well as find broadcasters with your taste in music
Is broadcasting music on the Mercora network legal?
Yes. Mercora has obtained the necessary licenses so that you can broadcast music on the Mercora Network legally.
Specifically, Mercora enables the webcasting of music according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 114 (required Adobe Acrobat to read). Mercora has obtained the statutory license for the non-interactive streaming of sound recordings from Sound Exchange, the organization designated by the U.S. Copyright Office to collect and distribute statutory royalties to sound recording copyright owners and featured and non featured artists. Mercora has also taken care of all U.S. musical composition performance royalties through its licenses with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Most song writers are represented by these agencies but there are some who are not affiliated with them, and you will need to obtain their permission before you can webcast their music. Mercora also ensures that any broadcast using the Mercora client adheres to the sound recording performance complement as specified in the DMCA. Read more about broadcasting on the Mercora Network.
What can I broadcast on the Mercora Network?
You can broadcast any music that you own legally. These recordings must originate from an authorized source (either created originally by the artist or record label that owns the copyright), and are not unlawful copies that have been downloaded illegally or obtained from an unauthorized third party.
Can I broadcast music that is ripped from CDs or downloaded from an online music store?
Yes. Music that is ripped from CDs that you purchased is considered an authorized source and so is music bought from online music stores like iTunes.
Sharing pictures & videos
How do I share pictures on Mercora?
You share pictures on Mercora right from your local directory on your computer. You “tell” the Mercora client about which pictures you want to share and with whom (people on your friends list, etc.) and those pictures can then be viewed by those people when you are both online on the Internet. People who have the permission to view your pictures will also have the ability to download those pictures.
How can I share home videos with my friends?
This is currently not yet available but will be soon.
How is this different from picture sharing sites like Yahoo and Ofoto?
Unlike Yahoo and Ofoto, the only limits you have on the number of pictures you can put on Mercora is based on your space you have on your local hard drive. Furthermore, you don’t have to send people links to your photo album over email (which is insecure) and you can specify who has access to your photos.
Who can see my pictures?
You specify who sees your pictures using the privacy settings in the Mercora client
Is picture sharing legal?
Yes, picture sharing is legal. However, you can only share pictures for which you own the copyright.
- The Legality of Webcasting with Mercora
Mercora lets you webcast music on the Internet using the Mercora client running on your PC and the Mercora servers located on the domain mercora.com. We have obtained a statutory license for the non-interactive webcasting of digital audio as per the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. § 114 (requires Adobe Acrobat plug-in). This license pertains to the digital performance rights of sound recordings and the associated reporting and royalty payments to SoundExchange® (the independent non-profit organization that represents over 500 record companies and associated labels). We have also obtained all U.S. (and in somecases international) musical composition performance rights through our licenses with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC . These pertain to the performance rights and associated royalties due to song writers. We take care of all the reporting and royalty payments that are due to these various organizations. You (the end user) do not have to worry about any of this.
How it works
Once you have installed the Mercora client, you can tell the client about the digital music files you would like to include in your Mercora music library. Once you do this, you can use the Mercora client to organize and play this music locally and also make the music available for webcasting to others on the Mercora Network. The Mercora client webcasts music that you play locally as well as automatically webcasts music when you are online.
In both these cases, it ensures that any webcasts you make satisfy various rules governing the statutory license for non-interactive webcasting, such as: conforming to the sound recording performance complement, minimum duration for looped programming, identification of song, artist and album, etc. For this reason, in some cases you might be listening to one song while webcasting another.
Other Rules You Need to Follow
You are not allowed to do any of the following things:
Publish advance program guides or use other means to pre-announce when particular sound recordings will be streamed or the order in which they will be streamed (this is because we are a non-interactive webcasting service)
Webcast specific sound recordings within one hour of the request by a listener or at a time designated by the listener
Webcast audio content for which you do not have the legitimate legal rights for use (music you have ripped from CDs that you own or music you have downloaded from a legitimate online music store like Apple iTunes is considered legitimate, music downloaded using file-sharing programs like KaZaA are not legitimate)
What are your thoughts on the ramifications of this?