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Apple courts major record labels, could launch cloud music service soon

May 20, 2011 |  4:00 pm

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Apple has reached "tentative agreements" with the four major record labels, setting the stage for the tech giant's expected unveiling of its own cloud-based music service, The Times has learned.

The streaming music service could make its official debut as early as June 6 in San Francisco, according Times reporter Alex Pham, who wrote about the Cupertino, Calif., company's move into cloud music for our sister blog Company Town.

June 6 is when Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco is set to start. Apple has said so far that this year's WWDC will focus on the future of Mac OS X and iOS, its two operating systems.

But last year Apple used the event to unveil Ping, its music-focused social network built into iTunes, its music and apps online storefront, Pham noted in her report.

People familiar with the negotiations told Pham that the timing of Apple's launch into cloud-based music "would depend on how soon Apple can button down its contracts with the major labels and publishers."

However, while the agreements are said to be in place, "it is unclear whether the Silicon Valley company has actual contracts with those labels -- Warner Music Group, Sony Music Group, EMI Group and Universal Music Group -- or whether details of the agreements are still being ironed out," Pham reported.

Representatives of the four labels declined to comment, while Apple officials could not be reached  Friday afternoon.

From Pham's report:

Apple, whose iTunes music store is the dominant purveyor of music downloads with between 75% and 85% of the market, has been carefully monitoring moves by rival Amazon.com as well as newcomers to the digital music space, including Google and, in Europe, Spotify.

Amazon pounced first in March when it launched a music "locker" service, dubbed Amazon Cloud Player, that lets users upload their music to Amazon's computers and listen to their songs from any browser. Google followed suit in May with its Music Beta service.

With Amazon and Google launching music locker services in the last two months, Apple was starting to feel pressure to make its own move, said people familiar with the negotiations between Apple and the music labels.

Apple's service would differ from Google's and Amazon's in one key respect -- it would have the requisite licenses from all the major record labels, whereas Google's and Amazon's are unlicensed services

With licenses in place from the four largest record labels in the music industry, Apple's streaming music service could offer a few benefits for users that Amazon and Google currently don't have.

To read more about what that might be, and how Apple could leverage its iTunes/iPod/iPhone/iPad user base to launch its cloud music service, head over to Pham's report "Apple making its move into cloud music."

RELATED:

Google unveils Music Beta, online music service

Amazon Cloud Player beats Apple and Google to the market

Apple launches subscriptions in App Store for magazines, newspapers, videos and music

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: An Apple store in San Francisco. Credit: Russel A. Daniels / Associated Press

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