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The Lala paradigm

These days the music industry is a legal minefield. Revenues are down, tensions are high, lawyers are jittery. They’ll sue 13 years olds if they even look at the latest Beyoncé single the wrong way.

These days the music industry is a legal minefield. Revenues are down, tensions are high, lawyers are jittery. They’ll sue 13 years olds if they even look at the latest Beyoncé single the wrong way.

Somehow, in the midst of all this confusion and paranoia, a website called managed to get a firm foothold. While Apple was busy celebrating the release of a relatively small number of Digital Rights Management-free (DRM) songs to their library — charging people about 30 cents more for the privilege of outright owning the music they purchased — was busy launching a service that could be the template that both musicians and the music industry are looking for.

Lala originally started as a CD swapping mail service, with each transaction costing about a buck. Obviously the people on the other end of the swaps were downloading or copying the contents of each CD, but that’s not exactly illegal. People have always traded music and made mixed tapes of the music in their collections, which is why you pay a surcharge to various recording associations every time you buy a blank CD. As well, people have always had free reign to back up any music they purchase, something that is more important in these days of easily scratched CDs — although the DVD industry has yet to see things the same way.

Recently Lala took its service online, basically eliminating a lot of the DRM and music portability issues that are driving so many people crazy.

For one thing, allows you to upload your entire digital music collection and then freely access that collection from any computer through streaming audio. You can even download your music files to your iPod through the web.

In the past, having your music collection on two computers meant ripping all of your disks twice or physically copying your files from one hard drive to another — often difficult if one computer is a PC and the other a Mac. Now you can freely stream your music from anywhere.

Secondly, there’s no DRM involved to limit how you use your music. You can stream your own music anywhere, and share your collection any way you want.

Thirdly, still gives you the ability to trade your CDs through the mail, still for a dollar. If you choose to share online, you’ll be streaming from’s service, greatly reducing the chance that you’ll pick up a virus from a peer to peer (P2P) service.

Lastly, the company offers online album sales. All albums are priced differently, and can drop in price over time — unlike most digital music download services. Furthermore, all downloaded albums are completely DRM-free.

Warner Music Group has already agreed to allow live streaming of their music collection, and if you like what you hear you can buy each song for a buck — a lot better option than the iTunes music store or other purchase services that only let you sample each song for about 30 seconds. Other music companies are reportedly following Warner’s lead and getting on board.

While streamed music is generally lower quality, and not the same as downloading an actual audio file, the quality is more than adequate for most people working on their computers.

What’s more, Lala will send you a CD copy of the songs and albums you buy at the highest available quality for about $3. Having a disk backup, and the rest of your collection online, means your collection can never be lost forever if your computer is stolen or has a fatal crash. is not a perfect system yet. The webpage is less than clear about what the service actually does, and the library of music for sale is still quite limited. As well, the time spent uploading your music playlist could be tough to sit through, and it will take a long, long time to update your iPod through the web. Also, I’d like to have the ability to download the actual music files I upload to to another computer, instead of the ability to merely stream my collection to an audio player. I’d even pay for that kind of portability, although to be fair it creates a whole new set of copyright issues.

Still, is a step in the right direction that recognizes what people want — a place to learn about new music, sample music cheaply, and to access your own music easily without any industry-imposed restrictions.

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