Start-up to help people sell unwanted MP3s


Oct 15, 2008

to me this sounds illegal

Stop illegally sharing, and start legally selling" is the tagline for a start-up that wants to enable music owners to sell their unwanted MP3s.

Ernesto at the blog TorrentFreak has a story about Bopaboo, which has created a digital marketplace where users operate mini download stores.

Bopaboo buyers can search for music in all the usual ways, and the site offers a seller rating to help shoppers learn a merchant's reputation. Sellers register and then are given an MP3 store, where they can upload the music they want to sell. No DRM-wrapped music is allowed, so iTunes owners like me are blocked from selling.

According to TorrentFreak, there is no limit on the number of songs that can be offered. Sellers select their own prices but, of course, must cut Bopaboo a percentage of sales.

This was an idea bound to emerge out of the craze over songs stripped of digital rights management software. People have traded DVDs, mixed tapes, and albums for decades.

Bopaboo says the site is legal, and it sounds like it should be. Don't people own their MP3s? We'll see.

UPDATE: 12:30 p.m. PT: Several of you readers have pointed out that it's going to be tough, if not impossible, to prevent people from reselling songs over and over. This sounds like a fight in the making with the music industry. I've got a few calls in, so I'll further update this post with any objections from the Recording Industry Association of America.

2nd UPDATE: 1:40 p.m. PT: Okay, here's the juice from Bopaboo CEO Alex Meshkin, a 28-year-old who didn't go to college, doesn't know programming but once ran Toyota's Nascar team. Yes, Nascar team.

I put the most important question to him first. Why don't you think the recording industry is going to sue you into oblivion?

"Obviously MP3s are very easy to duplicate," said Meshkin, who said Bopaboo is a Washington DC-based company founded a year ago. "It's very difficult to tell the difference between a so-called new copy and a so-called old copy... I can buy a CD and I can rip it and that behavior has basically been endorsed by the music industry. I can resell that CD on Amazon. The industry doesn't have a way to monetize physical goods being traded on the secondary market. The first-sale doctrine protects that right. In the physical world consumers have the right to resell their property and copyright owners can't do anything about that."

Question:Okay, but there's no way that the four largest music labels are going to sit back and let you enable people to sell multiple copies of the same song. Isn't that what people will be able to do using your digital marketplace?

"We have the technology in place to prevent you from selling a song more than one time," said Meshkin. "We take a digital fingerprint through every upload that prevents a user from uploading to our service a track more than one time. Actually we've come up with an algorithm, which is beyond what even (digital filtering company) Gracenote does with song identification."

Question Have you spoken to the big recording companies or the RIAA?

"Talks have sped up," he said. "I will be in New York later this week for meetings. The talks so far have been positive and the labels are inclined to look at alternative business models to monetize


Oct 15, 2008
updated source cnet

A new digital music service is getting lots of attention for proposing to help consumers sell their used MP3s in much the same way people once unloaded second-hand albums.

Bopaboo has generated splashy headlines recently for coming up with what on the surface seems like a good idea. Music fans have always exercised their first-sale rights, which under copyright law, allows them to sell their unwanted CDs, tapes, and albums without permission from the copyright owner. Why can't they do the same with digital music?

But there are dramatic differences between physical and digital medias. For this reason, Washington, D.C.-based Bopaboo appears to be careening toward a head-on collision with the recording industry. According to Bopaboo CEO Alex Meshkin, he will soon meet with executives from the major labels and execs there will no doubt ask why they shouldn't set their attorneys loose on the service. They may also inquire about controversy that dogged a then 23-year-old Meshkin when he was owner of Toyota's NASCAR team.
As for the legal questions involved with MP3 resales, Meshkin, 28, argues that the law allows consumers to sell digital media files in the same way they do physical media. Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group that supports Internet-user rights, disagrees saying the issue, to the best of his knowledge, has never been addressed in court.

Even von Lohmann, a well-known champion of the technology sector, sees potential weaknesses with Bopaboo's legal argument. He says while its true that under the first-sale law people are allowed to sell CDs and other physical goods, it hasn't been established whether the law covers digital media. Von Lohmann argues that Bopaboo could raise the public's awareness about what may one day be an important issue for digital music.

"We shouldn't lose our first-sale rights just because the second-hand stores involved are online," von Lohmann said. "Up to now, there hasn't been a huge opportunity for people to spend large amounts of money on digital music, but as time goes on some music fans will have thousands of dollars invested in their digital libraries or audio-book collections. It would be a big change if you weren't allowed to sell them."

For Bopaboo to survive, it will likely have to avoid legal skirmishes with the top four recording companies. For other digital-music services that have devised new ways to exploit music, the choices have always come down to partnering with the labels or getting sued by them. Meshkin said he will soon meet with music-industry representatives in New York and has already met with other important players in the sector. "The talks so far have been positive," Meshkin told CNET News on Wednesday.

One label executive I spoke with disputed Meshkin's version of the negotiations. "There haven't been any talks," said the executive. "They have asked to meet and we responded. That's it." A spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) declined to comment.

To say that Meshkin has a tough job selling his idea to label honchos is an understatement. Bopaboo's business model works this way: sellers register and are given an MP3 store where they can upload the music they wish to sell. Music protected by digital rights management software is not allowed. Sellers share profits with Bopaboo.

The main difference between selling physical goods, such as a CD and selling a download is that a seller of physical goods loses possession of the merchandise after it's sold. That is not the case with digital files.

person could transfer numerous copies of the same song file as long as it wasn't protected by digital rights management software. But Meshkin says his company can prevent repeat sales of the same song. Bopaboo has developed song-identification technology that prevents individuals from uploading more than one copy of the same song to the site regardless of how the file might be altered, he said. A copy is always produced when MP3s are transferred and a copy is retained on a computer hard drive.

Meshkin didn't have any technological solution for that. He said that in such harsh economic times the music industry must accept a few risks. After all it was they who allowed their music to be sold without DRM in the first place.

"Obviously, MP3s are very easy to duplicate," Meshkin said. "It's very difficult to tell the difference between a so-called new copy and a so-called old copy."

The label guys are unlikely to just shrug their shoulders at this kind of set up, said von Lohmann.

"If you buy a song from iTunes' (DRM-free) store you can immediately go and sell a copy of the song on Bopaboo," von Lohmann points out. "You would be assured of getting a discount on your iTunes purchase. There is no doubt that the first-sale law was drafted with physical objects in mind. There's no question that you are allowed to sell books or CDs. But when it comes to selling MP3s, it's an untested legal question."

Another problem for Bopaboo, says von Lohmann is that some digital music stores specifically forbid the resale of songs. At for example, the terms of use agreement says customers must agree to "copy, store, transfer and burn" digital music for personal-use only. Customers also agree that they won't "redistribute, transmit, assign, sell, broadcast, rent, share, lend, modify, adapt, edit, sub-license or otherwise transfer" the music.

I spoke with two label representatives who declined to comment for the record but told me they thought the resale of DRM-free songs could be the music industry's next big legal battleground.

Patrick Ross, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, a watchdog group made up artists, producers and other content creators, chuckled when I explained Bopaboo's business model.

"Clearly a first-sale defense won't apply here," Ross said. "In the case of a book or any other creative work, you no longer possess the work once you sell it...It's also hard for me to imagine the model succeeding because if somebody wants to pay for works they will pay for it at a legal site and see that creators are compensated. If they are willing to break the rules, they would just go on (P2P service) Lime Wire and get it for free. I hope (Bopaboo) crashes and burns before it gets sued. It seems like a flawed business model as well as an illegal business model."

If the business model isn't a hard enough pitch to make to the music industry, Meshkin has the added burden of trying to explain his past.

In a February 2005 story, BusinessWeek questioned some of the claims Meshkin has made about his background and highlighted the controversy surrounding his oversight of a NASCAR racing team for Toyota at the age of 23.

According to the story, Meshkin was sued by one former executive with Bang! Racing, his NASCAR team, and accused by some investors of misleading them about his personal wealth and ability to operate a racing team. Meshkin is quoted in the magazine denying the accusations. Toyota eventually pulled its support