Get your Beatles downloads from BlueBeat.com while they're hot—as in stolen, according to a federal copyright infringement lawsuit filed against the site and its owner by EMI records, which distributes the Beatles music, in Los Angeles Wednesday.
On second thought, be careful what you're buying.
BlueBeat surfaced recently when it began selling MP3 tracks from artists who have staunchly resisted posting their music for download. Albums worth of songs by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, and the Beatles were still going for $.25 a track and were free to stream at post time, despite what appears to be a temporary restraining order in the lawsuit filing.
A spokesperson for EMI, which works diligently with the Beatles and their label Apple to reissue music from the band's catalog, tells FastCompany.com, "EMI did not authorize its content to be sold or made available on BlueBeat.com." Nor did it authorize BlueBeat to stream music, the spokesperson confirmed, refuting a report in 2007 on santacruzlive.com that stated: "BlueBeat.com currently has one of the most diverse music libraries online, with more than 700,000 songs from across the musical spectrum. Even the Beatles, who have resisted licensing their songs to iTunes, agreed to license their entire catalogue to BlueBeat.com because of its security."
The site is owned by Hank Risan, curator of the Museum of Musican Instruments (MoMI) in Santa Cruz. He also owns a company called, ironically, Media Rights Technologies, Inc., also in California (BlueBeat.com appears to be hosted in Virginia). Risan has yet to respond to numerous phone calls and e-mail, but in 2007, santacruzlive.com called him "something of a modern-day Renaissance man," who "has multiple degrees in mathematics, neurobiology, economics and architecture" and "also owns one of the largest collections of vintage and historic guitars in the nation."
Biographical info found elsewhere on the Web says Risan was a Phi Beta Kappa Ph.D. candidate for four years in neurobiology and mathematics who attended UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley concurrently. He claims to be one of the first people to use mainframes to solve theoretical mathematical and biomedical research problems, and says he conducted his Ph.D. dissertation at Cambridge University, England, in addition to attending grad-level business courses at the London School of Economics. He also claims to have received an award from the National Science Foundation in Mathematics.
Most of that info is on his bio at the Huffington Post, where he was a one-off blogger. On May 2, 2007, HuffPo published Risan's manifesto-like post excoriating the music industry for failing to stop the rampant practice of stream-ripping. He, himself, was a rich source for said rippers, though, and he and his MoMI got a cease-and-desist letter from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 2001 after the museum's Web site posted what Risan called "streaming examples of iconic music." The streams, in all of their rip-able glory, had cost RIAA $150 million in stolen music, the letter claimed. Or as Risan spun it on HuffPo:
In the summer of 2001, the popular Web site was hit with a cease-and-desist letter from the RIAA for copyright infringement, alleging damages of $150 million to their members. Upon further investigation it was discovered that Microsoft had circumvented The MoMI's copy protection, in an 'upgrade' to the Windows Media Player.
Put another way, his copy protection failed.
So Risan and his team went on to invent something called X1 SeCure Recording Control, which no one in the music industry trusted enough to buy into. This, Risan argued, was their cardinal sin, the reason they've lost billions to stream-ripping, and why, he suggests, virtually every MP3 player (Zune, iPod) and software with recording programs (from Windows Sound Recorder to, presumably, Apple's Garage Band) are the tools of thieves.
If there is any cogent argument in his post, it's buried beneath what appears to be Risan's hard sell for his proprietary security software. And any point he makes about protecting the "creative arts" is unraveled by BlueBeat's decision to post artists' tracks for paid download on his site, seemingly without their permission.
One outcome may be that Risan will have raked in so much cash from his 25-cent downloads by the time a judge rules that the damages won't bankrupt him. Another outcome: EMI will soon become the owner of "one of the largest collections of vintage and historic guitars in the nation."