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Numero Group Opts Out Of iCloud: Who'll follow?

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 10, 2011 6:00PM

With tech overlord Apple recently unveiling its iCloud service, much has been made of what the revelation of the cloud service means for consumers and the music industry at large. But regardless of how the iCloud affects either one of those entities, one prominent Chicago record label is declining to participate.

Numero Group, the boutique label known for its lavish, deluxe reissues of nearly forgotten albums and compilations, explained in a recent blog post that it declined Apple's invitation to participate in the iCloud, which allows its users to store content wirelessly. iCloud users are allowed 5GBs of free space, and the iCloud will automatically store content by wirelessly updating any Apple product.

Here's where it gets complicated (even moreso than before): iCloud will also has iTunes Match, which, for $24.99 a year, will sync up previously purchased music -- even if you didn't buy it on iTunes -- with a 256 kbps AAC DRM-free version of the same track from iTunes's library. The reason this is possible is, unlike Amazon and Google with their respective cloud services, Apple worked in concert with the "big four" record labels in order to make this arrangement possible. Apple gets a cut, and so do the labels. Which, in an age of pirated music, is great, right?

Sure it is. But let's say you're a boutique label from Chicago who represents musicians and artists who need every cent they can get. Do you really want to partner with Apple in this case? Perhaps not.

Here's how it was explained in the Numero group blog post:

... [w]e feel that a great risk is being taken by Apple and the major labels that have accepted the terms of this new product wholesale with not a thought beyond the 150M those so-called “big four” will probably divide and pay to their top executives. By that, we mean that laws that protect compositions and copyrights for songs are, more or less, being trampled under these agreements.

In the coming weeks, many customers and friends will ask us this question: why am I not able to automatically access Numero in my iCloud? The simple reason is that Apple and their major label “partners” have created a reward system that is both incomprehensible in scope and totally out of sync with iCloud’s streaming peers’ (Rdio, Spotify, et al) financial mechanics.

As we have been entrusted with an incredible wealth of creative assets, and our primary responsibility is to our partners; the artists, producers, and songwriters that make up the Numero catalog, we feel that Apple’s pittance is an insult not only to them, but every other musician, living or dead, and, if the latter is the case, their heirs.

With that in mind, we have declined Apple’s invitation to iCloud.

The Los Angeles Times' Todd Martens reached out to to Numero head Rob Sevier to elaborate upon the label's original blog post.

Sevier told Martens via email that Apple's iCloud was "analogous to the replacement of a counterfeit painting with an original painting" and that he simply had too many questions about how the technology would benefit a label like his in order to justify participation.

Sevier to Martens:

This is a very convenient and technologically impressive set-up. Imagine: instead of having an MP3 on every hard-drive in the world, we have an MP3 basically in one place, accessible by everyone in the world at their whim. It does appear that the future of data is in these cloud formations. However, this can't be at the disservice to the creators of intellectual property

Sevier also said Numero has a moral obligation to support the copyright holders the label represents. Sevier said to Martens, "Some [of our copyright holders] are just small families with only a handful of copyrights, and we're their only life-line into this world. We have to take a more responsible view."

Sevier said Numero's previous dealings with Apple have been positive. Here's a direct question: Will other labels follow suit?

The answer, like with most of the questions surrounding iCloud as a whole, remains unseen. Based on Sevier's perspective, it seems independent labels are right to be somewhat skeptical of iCloud. On the other hand, of those labels, how many can compare their missions to that of Numero Group's? Though there are certain many re-issue labels out there, few match the depth and scope of Numero Group in terms of the physical product they provide.

On a more personal note: Most of the music I purchase comes either directly from the artist themselves (i.e., physical product at a show, or through a site like Bandcamp), or is a vinyl-or-cassette-only local release.

Simply put, iCloud is unlikely to recognize those songs, and, if they do, it's music that I already have on my digital MP3 player--either because I'm reviewing it, or because I'm catching up on music I sorely needed to hear. As impressive as cloud technology is, I feel that iCloud really isn't relevant to a music listener like myself. That's not to spite Apple, or stick it to "the man." That's just reality as it currently is. I'm not going to pay Apple $25 to access music I'm already listening to.

As one last food-for-thought, I'm directly copying-and-pasting what Kevin Robinson said on Chicagoist's listserv about cloud technology:

A while back this sort of crossed my mind, which is that, what happens to all of my music, pictures and words when I die? Is our legacy as a generation, a culture and a society going to be condensed to a series of ones and zeros? I think commercial and retail applications for cloud computing is fantastic and an incredibly powerful application for any number of utilities. But, at the same time, I see the move to this type of technology as expanding the digital and class divides of our society, but also endangering whatever sort of legacy we might leave for future generations.

If nothing else, by opting out of iCloud, Numero Group could ensure its cultural legacy for future generations to come. Which is the entire point of Numero Group to begin with, no?