MySpace Music, the would-be iTunes challenger that’s possibly launching this week, has been trouble-plagued for a while. Now the Register reports that while the catalogues of three of the major record companies have already been secured, independent labels are being blocked from uploading their music to the service. It’s a question of song rights; currently, if an independent label attempts to upload music owned territorially by a major somewhere else in the world, the service doesn’t allow the upload to go through, even though the independent rightfully owns those songs. According to a licensing professional quoted in the report, this might be an intentional oversight: MySpace Music may have overlooked the question of territorial rights in order to give the majors a leg up.
And while there’s no talk of any antitrust lawsuit yet, the Register points out there is a precedent: Recent attempts at a Warner-EMI merger have been scuttled by concerns from independent music association Impala, which was pushing to ensure their legal rights would be protected. MySpace Music reps have responded today, saying “We are not aware of any antitrust complaint or inquiry pending against either Myspace or MySpace Music. MySpace Music welcomes indie artists and is not blocking content from them or other labels. Our goal is to provide the indie community with powerful tools and monetization channels to enable them to access revenue streams previously unavailable.”
So why make bands work through record companies at all? (This has always bugged us about iTunes too.) Why can’t unsigned acts upload their music themselves? It’s not like shelf space is a concern here. We understand the priority for MySpace Music was to negotiate for the major catalogues, but suppose (against all reasonable odds) that the service is a success — will bands of the future have to angle for otherwise-worthless record deals just to get their music sold digitally? Also, isn’t everybody just downloading music for free now anyway?