Will music fans go gaga over La La?

Got CDs? La La is a new music service that aims to help you get rid of 'em--and to replace them with ones you haven't heard yet.

It's in a private beta until this (northern) summer.

La La is, ultimately, a community of music lovers who have used the service to publish lists of the CDs they have and the CDs they want. If another La La user wants a CD you have, you can choose to send that person the disc, using a mailer provided by La La. Doing so gets you one credit which you can apply--along with US$1 paid to La La--to get a CD on your want list from another La La user. In other words, for each used CD you get, you give up one of your own CDs plus a buck.

But La La is quite a bit more than a CD trading site. It's also going to sell music downloads (entire albums, not single songs), and it says that it's figured out how to sell albums that are copy-protected with Microsoft's DRM technology but which can be downloaded to an iPod--which will be a neat trick, since Apple is the only company that currently sells copy-protected tunes which will play on its music players.

La La also has a lot of neat-looking features for talking about music, finding new music you might like, and generally being a happy, social music lover--including tools to let you blog, browse through other users' collections, and get recommendations based on your music collection.

And the La La site is slick and innovative in a bunch of ways. For instance, it's got one seach field for artists, albums, and songs...and that search field has type-ahead for artists, so it displays a list of possibilities as you type.

La La looks like fun, and the only thing I've seen that's even vaguely similar in concept is Peerflix, a DVD-trading service. It does introduce an interesting question: Is it both legal and ethical to buy a CD, rip it to your computer, and then trade it to someone else, who will presumably do the same--and then maybe trade the CD to yet another person who will rip it and then pass it on? (If most La La users keep the music but trade the CD, the service will be a sort of Kazaa with a built-in throttling factor, since the music will travel via snail mail, rather than directly from one hard drive to another.)

The trading and selling of used CDs is unquestionably legal. I'm still sorting out in my mind, however, whether making a copy of a CD and then trading away the original is a moral act, even if it's a legal one.

Of course, La La has deals with music labels to sell downloads, and it says its selection will be comparable with those of the big download services; that suggests that the music companies can live with its business model. And it says it's going to give money to artists, which might help assuage your guilt if you end up buying fewer new CDs because you belong to La La.

Me, I still like having CDs of the music I really like; if nothing else, they're about as dependable as backups get. So if I ended up being a La La regular, I'd probably use it to get rid of music I had no intention of listening to again. Maybe others who use La La will feel the same. That seems perfectly ethical.

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Harry McCracken

PC World
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