Major Label Fights Google-ization of Music With SeeqPod Lawsuit
Eliot Van Buskirk Email 02.18.08 | 12:00 AM
In the world of online music, you're nobody until somebody sues you. Like so many music startups before it, the innovative MP3 search site SeeqPod finds itself staring down the wrong end of a major-label lawsuit from Warner Music.
Even though it's just one company, the stakes are high. The future of search itself could be in jeopardy, because Warner Music Group's suit attacks a key provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that, broadly speaking, allows search engines to link to anything on the net.
But for the music fans who have embraced SeeqPod since its debut in September 2006, it's another instance of the labels clamping down on a cool new way to tune in online.
The site lets users search a massive catalog of music gathered from servers all over the world, and play the results right there on the page -- thus its motto, "playable search."
SeeqPod doesn't let you download songs, but does let you save them into playlists to share with friends or access from connected computers and devices such as the iPhone.
"SeeqPod's easy because you go to the website, type in the band name, and a bunch of songs pop up," says Sarah Shvil, a self-described "music fan 24/7." She adds: "You can figure out instantly whether you like the band or not."
Shvil says she has purchased concert tickets and CDs of bands she has discovered on SeeqPod. She calls Warner's demand for up to $150,000 in damages per song "ridiculous."
"To me, it's more a matter of radio rather than downloading, because [the songs] are not on my system," says Patrick Murphy, a patent researcher at the U.S. Patent Office. Murphy likens SeeqPod to another example of playable search that is thriving: "Look at Google images," he says. "How many times are you bringing up copyrighted images when you do a search on that?"
Aside from its embeddable widgets and playlist sharing, people use SeeqPod for two main reasons, according to co-founder and CEO Kasian Franks. "No. 1: You're more likely to find what you're looking for here than anywhere else. No. 2: Ease of use. It's refreshingly simple."
Sound familiar? Those same factors made Google what it is today.
Google's cash cow, of course, is the massive AdWords network that pairs advertisements with search results to increase the chance that users will click on ads. SeeqPod aims to eventually do something similar in music by allowing users to buy albums, tickets and band merchandise. The site's ticketing partnership with SongKick is an early example.
Rather than attacking SeeqPod, the labels should view it as a template for how to make money on the internet, which isn't going away any time soon.
The labels could even harness SeeqPod's search technology to offer music services far more comprehensive than the ones licensed today.
The music industry would become "Google-ized," deriving revenue from other products associated with music, rather than music itself.
With music sales continuing to decline, SeeqPod's attempt to Google-ize the industry could be a perfect fit for the labels' much-vaunted 360-degree deals, which emphasize merchandise, ticket sales and other revenue streams.
The question now, as it has been since the early days of Napster, is whether the labels are flexible enough to survive the free-music age.