Playlist Central is a new local music streaming website that launched on 1 November and, like similar international websites such as Grooveshark, offers access to thousands of songs, all in one place.
But, like many of its international equivalents, it could soon find itself in hot water with the big record labels, and has already drawn the attention of Warner Music Gallo Africa.
The website’s press and marketing representative, Roi Simpson, says he and his partners thought of the idea a few months ago. Simpson used to work for Algoa FM and now does training for radio presenters. He met his partners, Muhammed Ebrahim and Paul Playdon, while working at the University of Cape Town’s radio station. Simpson says the trio “had a common interest in SA music, the music industry and radio”.
OBTek, an SA company that specialises in online audio streaming and coding, supplies Playlist Central’s backend. According to Simpson, the site now has more than 51 000 tracks available for streaming. The site offers audio at 65kbit/s in mono, says Ebrahim, who is the site’s head of coding and scripting.
Simpson says the site has “enough bandwidth for 100 000 users at the same time”, with its servers based in the UK, Canada and the US. For now, Playlist Central is only using one of these servers because demand is low.
Playlist Central is built on a registered version of a program called Subsonic and is still in beta testing. Its user base was “originally just a few friends testing out the system”, says Simpson. However, by the end of its first week of going live, Playlist Central started gaining traction thanks to people talking about it on social networks.
The site is now in open beta testing and will remain free until February 2012. Once testing is concluded, there are plans to add audio and video advertisements and offer a paid subscription model that would remove these. There are also plans to offer higher-quality audio and integration with social networks.
The biggest problem most streaming services have faced is getting the major record labels on board, even if they are being paid per song played.
Simpson says Playlist Central pays the SA Music Rights Organisation (Samro) a licensing fee and the company had assumed this was sufficient to legitimise its entire catalogue. However, it has since been contacted by Warner Music Gallo Africa, with which it will be meeting this week to discuss whether or not the site will be allowed to continue hosting the label’s music.
One of Warner’s primary complaints is that users can upload their own material because there are not sufficient measures in place to ensure users don’t upload copyrighted material, says Simpson.
“We will oblige anyone who has a gripe,” adds Ebrahim. He says the site doesn’t want to endorse piracy, which is why tracks are only played at broadcast quality and users “can’t download anything from the site, so it’s not like LimeWire or early Napster”.
In the US, Grooveshark has landed itself in hot water with some of the labels, with Universal Music Group filing a copyright infringement lawsuit. Grooveshark says it works within the strictures of US copyright law.
“We might well lose 30 000 tracks by the end of this week if the labels reject us,” admits Simpson. “The way I see this going is more towards SA music. Maybe it can evolve into SA music only.”
Simpson says Playlist Central wants to be a website “of reference for SA music and a platform bands can use to release their music”. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral
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