Tech Lab sounds doomed, alas

By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Columnist / June 9, 2011

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Internet entrepreneur Michael Robertson has just launched his own economic stimulus program. He’s going to provide jobs for a lot of lawyers.

That’s because Robertson has created a new online service called, which delivers a new way to listen to Internet radio streams. is a digital recorder for audio streams, capturing your favorite Internet radio shows whenever they’re broadcast so you can listen to them later. It works, it’s wonderful, and it’s very possibly doomed, because the world’s leading music recording companies will probably come after it with every attorney they have.

Robertson has been here before. In the late 1990s, he launched the online music service, which offered a then-radical listening service. If you owned a CD of, say, The Beatles’ White Album, you would insert it into your computer. would verify that you had the disk and would then authorize you to listen to the same album, streamed over the Internet from a copy on the company’s own servers. No need to buy a new digital copy of the song; just start listening.

Earlier this week, Apple Inc. announced a similar service called iTunes Match, set to launch this fall. The difference is that Apple got the major record labels to agree to the plan. Robertson hadn’t done that. He was sued for copyright infringement, and lost. might suffer the same fate, which is too bad: It’s simply brilliant. The service has compiled Internet links to thousands of online streams from sources all over the world. Many of them are the Internet streams of traditional AM and FM radio stations, like Boston’s news station WBZ or rock broadcaster WFNX.

Say you want to hear WBZ’s Nightside, a talk show, which runs from 8 p.m. to midnight. With a few mouse clicks, you can order to copy the show and store it on the company’s servers. You can record just 15 minutes of the program, or the whole thing. While you’re at it, you can schedule recordings from other online streams. lets you record up to four streams at once.

When you’re ready to listen, will play back the recording through your computer. The company has also developed playback apps for Apple’s iPhone or iPad, or phones running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Phone 7, Google Inc.’s Android software, or Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Palm operating system.

Some existing desktop radios that pick up Internet broadcasts could also be capable of pulling in streams from That’s the theory, anyway. I tried one such radio from Grace Digital Inc. It did fine with many Internet channels, but it wouldn’t link to despite repeated software resets.

For recording music from a radio station, is really impressive. It uses software to separate and identify individual tracks. So if you record an hour’s worth of your favorite rock or rap station, you’ll see a list of every song that was played. You can listen to the entire stream, or to individual songs.

The basic service doesn’t cost a dime. Users get two gigabytes of storage — enough, Robertson estimates, for about 100 songs. Subscribers can pay for a premium service with greater capacity; for instance, 20 gigs, or 5,000 songs, costs $19.95 a year.

But will survive for a year? Not if the Recording Industry Association of America can help it. RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth told me the organization, which represents the biggest recording companies, is appalled by the concept. “Generally, software and services that turn streaming services into download-to-own services are unlawful,’’ said Duckworth.

That’s not quite right, though. doesn’t let users download and keep the music files. They can only listen to them online. Robertson said it’s no different than using a digital video recorder to capture TV shows for later viewing. And he points to a 2008 federal court ruling that said cable company Cablevision Systems Corp. could copy TV shows on its servers, so customers could view them later., said Robertson, is doing pretty much the same thing. But Duckworth said goes far beyond time shifting, to create a permanent library of streamed music, without paying for it. RIAA hasn’t sued yet, but it’s just a matter of time before they lawyer up.

So if you’d like to painlessly record your favorite online audio, now’s your chance. Maybe your last chance.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at Internet audio recording service

COST: Free for up to 2 gigabytes of stored audio files; premium service for more storage ranges from $19.95 a year for 20 gigabytes to $139.95 a year for 200 gigabytes.

HOW IT WORKS: Lets users record up to four separate Internet streams simultaneously. Allows recording of regularly-scheduled concerts, news, or talk shows. Audio files are stored on the Internet and can be replayed through Android, iPhone, Palm and Windows Phone 7 devices, on desktop computers, and on certain Internet desktop radios.

POSSIBLE DRAWBACKS: Music recording industry claims that the service violates copyright laws; company could face legal action.