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Music labels to Google: We're counting on Apple

Google's music service debuts, but sans licenses, meaning Apple could still roll out a more compelling take on cloud music--and force Google and Amazon to pony up.

Google Music Beta
Google unveiled the beta version of its music storage service May 10 at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco.

If Apple rolls out a cloud music service next month, the offering could appear a little dated.

First Amazon and now Google have launched services that enable users to store music libraries on the companies' servers and access them from a variety of devices. This sort of computing via the Internet, rather than on a given PC, is known as cloud computing.

Google unveiled the beta version of its music storage service yesterday at its I/O developer conference in San Francisco. Amazon unveiled its Cloud Player and Cloud Drive offerings in late March.

But the services offered by Amazon and Google are not all that they can be because those companies had to tippy-toe around copyright issues. Since neither company was either able or willing to obtain licenses from the four major labels, neither of them could deliver the same range of options that Apple will be able to offer with its upcoming cloud service, according to multiple music industry sources.

Related links
• How to use Google's Music Beta (hands-on)
• Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player (review)
• Google I/O spotlights devices, music (roundup)

Exactly what those options are, the sources wouldn't say. Nonetheless, the hope in the music industry is that Apple's music service will make the competing offerings look shabby by comparison and force Amazon and Google to pay the licensing rates the labels are asking.

So when will we finally see Apple's service? CNET reported last month that Apple has a signed licensing deal with Warner Music Group but who knows when the service will debut. It's Apple.

Lots of people at the four major labels, however, now hope the service launch at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference on June 7. The risk for the record labels is that the services from Amazon and Google could prove good enough for most music consumers and that the companies don't feel compelled to upgrade.

The status quo also leaves the door open for Spotify to finally enter the U.S. market. A hit with European music listeners, Spotify has been unable to obtain the necessary licenses to launch a similar service here. Is the company thinking of following Amazon and Google's strategy for a U.S. launch?

"Nothing to add from us on the Google launch," said Jim Butcher, Spotify's spokesman. "We're continuing our negotiations [with the record companies] and look forward to launching stateside as soon as possible."

And just in case anyone thinks that there isn't a chance of a legal fight, music sources told me that because Google transcodes some of the music that users upload to their servers, this could be defined as creating a new copy. And that would require a publishing license, some at the major labels believe.

Songs on the MP3 format aren't changed in any way, but Google transcodes songs on FLAC, AAC, and WMA to MP3.