Google is preparing to launch a test version of a new digital music service tomorrow that will enable users to upload their music libraries to the company's servers.
As many expected, the music service is being announced at Google's I/O Developer Conference in San Francisco tomorrow, according to Zahavah Levine, one of the Google executives in charge of getting the music service off the ground.
While Google and Levine have negotiated to obtain licences from the four top labels for over a year, the service will appear first in beta without licensing from the labels. Amazon shocked the record companies and digital music fans in March when it launched a cloud music service that also was without licensing. Google is adopting a similar strategy.
"We're launching a beta service called Music Beta by Google that lets users upload their personal music libraries to their own account on Google's servers," Levine told CNET. Users can "access those libraries anytime or anywhere from web connected devices".
Levine said that Android owners will be able to access their libraries when offline as well.
While the service is still in beta, users will be able to join by invitation only. Initially, to access the service, users will require a browser that supports Flash — that means no Apple devices — or on any Android device that's version 2.2 or higher, Levine said. Currently the service will start off in the United States only and will be free.
For over a year, all the talk about cloud music, the term used to describe third-party computing, was about Google and Apple. Then Amazon beat both companies by unveiling a digital music locker service that allows users to store songs on Amazon's servers and then listen to their collections via computers with a web browser.
What this appears to mean is that the labels are getting pushed out of the cloud. Any service with ambitions of operating a cloud service has to consider that there's an alternative to seeking licences from the top labels.
The labels have insisted that offering most cloud music features would require licences from them. But they didn't do much, at least publicly, to discourage Amazon from going out with its service and that hasn't sat well with execs at competing services. Some interpreted the labels' silence to mean that they didn't have any legal recourse.
Amazon and Google appeared to have built their services to carefully avoid violating any copyrights. They didn't make any additional copies of songs. Users upload their songs to the service and those same copies are what the users hear when they access their libraries. If Amazon, say, scanned the hard drives of its subscribers and then streamed back to them its own copy, Amazon would have needed a licence.
Almost certainly, Google doesn't want a copyright fight with the labels. The US Government has been holding the company's feet to the fire on doing more anti-piracy work. Last month, a group of congressmen chided Google for allegedly looking the other way when it came to piracy. It wouldn't look good right now for the largest music companies to point copyright accusations against the company.
But Google seems intent on giving Android users a new way to store and access music and at the very least this beta service will pressure the labels into offering better cloud-licensing terms.
The good news for digital music fans and Android owners will now have one of the biggest web companies in the world competing for their attention. Google has already built YouTube into one of the internet's dominant music destinations. It can also pitch its service to the exploding number of Android users. Each day, more than 350,000 Android phones are activated globally.