Free Music Service Disappearing?

A quickly established favorite among music fans, the CDDB website provides comprehensive information for tracking who and what appears on just about any CD in existence (see previous). But as users of the service are discovering, the company that now maintains the database, Gracenote, is starting to change the rules of access.

The CDDB database has grown over the years as a result of support from the nearly one million users who voluntarily enter information about CDs into the system. But now that Gracenote is tightening control of the database, some are wondering just who owns a publicly created pool of data such as the CDDB.

The debate came to a head as Gracenote cut off access to the service via Roxio's popular CD recording software which could link a customer's CD with the information in the database. Roxio and Gracenote are now locked in a legal battle, but the larger issue of who controls the fruits of a publicly created database could have far-reaching implications. A key issue in the debate is whether or not users who contributed to the CDDB knew that once they entered their data, it was then copyrighted and owned by Gracenote.

As is becoming typical on the Internet, when someone tries to commercialize a once-free resource, new alternatives pop up—in this case quickly formed to fill in the gap. But Gracenote hopes to make it harder for others to emulate the way CDDB works. The company announced last week that the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted Gracenote two patents intended to protect their CDDB music recognition technology and related services.

Gracenote says that US Patent No.6,230,192, entitled "Method and System for Accessing Remote Data Based on Playback of Recordings," relates to the utilization of localized audio or video files in accessing a remote device via a computer network, whereby an "identifier" is determined for a recording and access to a remote device is based upon the identifier. US Patent No.6,230,207, entitled "Network Delivery of Interactive Entertainment Synchronized to Playback of Audio Recordings," relates to interactively synchronizing the display of information from a remote device with the playback of a recording at a local device.

According to Gracenote, these patents are an integral part of the company's intellectual property portfolio concerning the delivery of "metadata" and song information to music playback devices or online applications. The company states that "once an identifier for a recording is determined, an associated link can be used for a number of purposes. For example, the link may serve as a 'key,' allowing users the ability to access related services such as concert tickets or CD sales, or provide related content such as music files, liner notes, album art, lyrics, metadata, or entry into a private chat with the artist."

Although Roxio users may disagree, Gracenote says that its newly patented technology "promises expanded music-related content and extended access to music for fans, while also reinforcing Gracenote's role in the digital music revolution."