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Locker service under test

Locker service under test

Operating under the codename Locker Plus, the new 7digital service is currently being beta tested ahead of similar plans by Apple and Google to move into streaming and the cloud.

There is no confirmed launch date or price model, but 7digital CEO Ben Drury suggests it could be offered free as a value-add to customers.

"We believe if you buy something you should be able to access it on all your devices and you shouldn't have to pay anything for that privilege," Drury says.

7digital already offers a locker service where users can re-download anything they have bought multiple times. The proposed Locker Plus will build on this to allow streaming to connected devices.

Drury believes such lockers will play an important part in the ongoing battle against piracy. "My model for this for a long time has been email," he says. "I should be able to access my music in the same way I access my email. I have one email account that happens to be hosted by Google and I can access it on my BlackBerry, my iPad, my laptop, my home PC and my work PC. This is now the norm for email and it is going to happen to music and other media content."

He explains the digital market has matured and developed in the past two years, as boundaries between ownership and access have been blurred by services such as we7, Spotify and Rhapsody's app-based premium offerings.

"Consumers' expectations have changed as they use more and different connected devices," argues Drury. "A few years ago, they would use one computer. Now they have several connected devices."

Drury believes adding this extra functionality into legal services gives the music business a new weapon to combat digital piracy.

"You can still get music for free relatively easily on MP3, but you can't get this kind of a service. We're trying to give people who buy music loads of extra value so they get access on different devices as an added value that you just wouldn't get on a pirate site. There is also a strong anti-piracy message with this," he says.

7digital's move comes as both Apple and Google plan extending their reach into streaming and the cloud. Both have bought in expertise - Apple bought Lala in 2009 and closed it last month, while Google recently confirmed its acquisition of Simplify Media - and they clearly have big plans in this area.

However, 7digital, which in September 2008 became the first download store in Europe to offer MP3s from all the major labels, could secure another major coup by beating them both to market.

"In 2008, before we went DRM-free, we were selling something inferior to what you could get free [on P2Ps]," suggests Drury. "That was an unsustainable position to be in. We have got a level playing field now where we are selling something that is as good as, if not better, than what you can get for free. We still believe you have to take that extra step to put clear blue water between the illegal services and the legal services."

This, naturally, opens the question of licensing rights and if copyright holders will regard streaming from lockers as a "value add" or a monetisation opportunity.

If users can upload all their music content to this proposed locker and stream or download to any device, will royalties apply?

"We don't think so," says Drury. "Personal back-up services already exist where you have your own personal storage area for your content and you pull it down as you want. This will become the norm and the idea you can charge extra for it is crazy. It will become a necessity for fighting piracy."

He suggests labels "have seen this coming" and are "pretty relaxed" because contextual recommendations based on a user's habits can add in the upsell element.

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