The Day the Music Died

See update at end of article. iTunes continues to grow and Napster has been reborn, but these last few months have been a bumpy ride for MP3.com. The music site, known for its large online music library featuring unsigned independent artists, was purchased on December 14 by San Francisco-based CNET.

CNET announced it will scrub MP3.com's servers of all content at midnight December 2, stranding an estimated 250,000 independent recording artists and 40 million subscribers worldwide. The popular website was launched by Michael Robertson in 1997 and by the year 2000 had reached its peak with 1.6 million songs. In 2001, the company was sold to global media giant Vivendi Universal who then sold the company to CNET.

Even though its agreement with Vivendi calls for wiping out the current stock of music, CNET announced last week that it plans to offer a music upload and download destination for independent artists early next year. The company did not reveal why it is being required to delete the existing database, but says its new service would support more than 2.4 million downloads per day. An email was sent to the MP3.com artist community stating that "certain assets" of MP3.com had been sold to CNET.com, and that the resident MP3.com audio files would be erased on December 2, when CNET takes over the website.

News of the deal sparked several efforts in the music industry to preserve the existing MP3.com audio library. Primetones.com, also in the MP3 distribution business, announced last week that it has begun negotiating with Vivendi to preserve the MP3.com audio library.

Primetones' David Blumberg comments, "The loss of these MP3.com audio files is a catastrophe that may be felt for generations to come. Never before in music history has there been such a complete collection of legally recorded music available to the online community. MP3.com's hard drives contain art of immense cultural significance. Imagine an anthropologist, 100 years from now, digging through this music. He will not care what the Billboard rankings were—he will only know that artists of the late 20th and early 21st century created an amazingly diverse and valuable body of music."

Primetones claims that it has the capacity to host and serve these files, adding that the company will "exercise every resource at our disposal to encourage Vivendi/Universal to allow us to begin saving the files immediately." In addition to the independent artists, Kenny Rogers, Faith Hill, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Nickel Creek, and Alison Krauss & Union Station also currently offer their music on their official MP3.com sites.

Update: CNET Networks now informs us that the source for some of the information in the above article is incorrect. Specifically, CNET Networks says that they were not offered the MP3.com music archives from Vivendi, and have only secured the domain name MP3.com. CNET Networks emphasizes that they are not responsible for deleting or otherwise controlling the old MP3.com music database.

A new press release states "As it takes ownership today of the MP3.com domain, which it purchased from VUNet USA, CNET Networks announced its strategy to serve the needs of music fans and the independent artist community. The Company is planning two upcoming music site launches: a free independent artist upload/download site that will be featured on CNET Download.com starting in early 2004, and the re-launch of MP3.com as a comprehensive music information site shortly thereafter. "

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