MP3.com's Robertson Getting Back In Biz

Digital vet starts unprotected-download store.

Michael Robertson, founder and former CEO of the original MP3.com, has announced plans to launch a new online music store next week.

The new store, MP3Tunes, will look much like the original MP3.com and will stand out from today’s digital music destinations in that it will sell only unprotected MP3 files that can play on any digital music player.

Robertson’s rationale is that the current use of competing digital rights management formats inhibits customer adoption by fragmenting the market. “I think it doesn’t make sense, and it's holding back the digital music industry,” Robertson says. “Customers are getting [music] free anyway in the MP3 format from illegal sites.”

Certain independent music stores, such as eMusic, also sell tracks in unprotected MP3 format. Major labels, however, have adamantly resisted licensing their catalogs to Web services unless copyright protections can be guaranteed.

“Our job will be to win over the labels,” Robertson says. The store is expected to launch with 200,000 tracks, mostly from independent labels and artists.

“If it shows success, maybe that will convince labels to come aboard,” Robertson says. “Yes, it’s asking the music industry to take the next step, but I think the time is right. Sell your music in a way where your customers are not treated like criminals.”

Other than selling music, MP3Tunes will offer an as-yet-unnamed hardware device and various software products, likely based on the Linux operating system. Robertson will officially launch the store at the Desktop Summit, a Linux-centric conference Feb. 9-11 in San Diego. Robertson is a major Linux advocate and founder of the Linux OS firm Linspire.

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