Peter Kafka

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Google Steps Gingerly Into Music With “One Box”

madonnaGoogle insists, over and over, that it has no intention of getting into the content business. So how is it finessing its way into the music business? Very carefully.

The search giant is working on a new service that will provide searchers with streaming music, which sounds a whole lot like a content play at first blush. But Google will only be offering limited bits of music, and it will be relying on other companies to actually provide the tunes.

Sources describe the service, which they refer to as “One Box,” as a refined set of answers for music queries. The idea: Punch in, say, “Madonna,” and you’ll be presented with one or more songs, which may be partial clips or full-length versions, then guided to other sites where you can purchase the music.

That is: If you’re looking for Google (GOOG) to launch a rival to Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes or to music streaming services like iMeem and MySpace Music, this isn’t it.

In fact, Google is actually partnering, in a way, with News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace: iLike, the music start-up that MySpace purchased earlier this year, is one of the two services providing music to Google, industry sources tell me. The other is, which has a novel streams-plus-cheap-songs concept. (This is presumably one of the “big announcements” Lala founder Bill Nyguen was referring to yesterday when I spoke to him).

UPDATE: Streaming music service imeem will also be providing songs for the new service, I’m told by people familiar with Google’s plans. It’s unclear to me whether the company will provide full streams in search results. No comment from Google, Lala, MySpace or Imeem. Or the labels, for that matter.

At this point I’m not clear how Google and the labels will determine how much of a song a searcher will be able to listen to. Last I time I checked, iLike didn’t have the ability to provide full song streams at all. And Lala’s licenses only allow the service to provide listeners with a full song once–after that, they have to purchase the track from the service.

One other note: “OneBox” is the name of an existing Google feature that offers up not just links, but actual answers to certain queries. (Think of weather, or stock results). So while it’s possible that Google intends to brand the service with that name, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the term the company has been using internally and with the labels, and that the service will have a different name when it launches.

TechCrunch first reported about the service this morning.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work