Plugged:
There's been an awful lot of hype around Lala.com, the CD-trading service turned online radio and digital download provider. The company backed off its go-big-or-go-home launch when it couldn't get all the major labels onboard right away, so now it's smartly working with its one label partner-Warner Music Group-to extend it's unique technology on an artist-by-artist basis.

Lala created a sales widget for James Blunt's new album "All the Lost Souls" which will allow Blunt to sell the album from his MySpace profile. Buyers get to download the full CD to the iPods and get a physical copy in the mail. Brilliant.
Rather than turtle up and wait for all the other majors to sign on to its proposed full-scale music store, the nimble Lala and WMG can instead conduct this experiment to see how well the widget works. Positive results could mean bigger and broader tests, not to mention additional licensing deals.

It's also a coup for the much-hyped widget strategy. Rather that lure music fans to a big digital store to find and buy files, widgets allow users to acquire what they want at the point of discovery.

The process has all the right ingredients -- MySpace's exposure, iPod compatibility, and it engages the fan. If the dish tastes as good as it looks, it could move from today's special to regular menu fare.

UnPlugged:
MediaDefender took a big one on the chin this week when hackers released more than 6,500 company e-mails to the Internet, sparking a feeding frenzy among the digerati and leaving no small amount of egg on the company's face.

While seen as the ultimate act of revenge by the hacker and file-trading community, who vilified MediaDefender's practice of flooding P2P networks with spoof files designed to frustrate the music downloader, the real consequence calls into question the company's entire reason for existence.

The e-mails show not only record labels' frustration at the relative ineffectiveness of their efforts, but also the lengths MediaDefender would go to cover up their shortcomings. Labels were paying $2,000 a track per month for MediaDefender's anti-piracy service with no indication that it was even effective. At hundreds of tracks a month, that's a lot of money down the drain for an anti-piracy effort that show no sign of working.

Making matters worse, the same hackers have since released the source code behind MediaDefender's technology, meaning P2P users with the know-how can determine which files on the network are fake and which are real.

It's time to look at the piracy problem with a new set of eyes.