Peter Kafka

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Google Launching Its Cloud Service Tomorrow, Without Big Music's Approval

You’ve seen Amazon’s cloud music service. Now get ready for Google’s music service.

They’re going to look pretty similar.

Google is preparing to show off a new music service at tomorrow’s I/O conference. And like Amazon’s launch earlier this year, the company is doing it without the approval of the major music labels and publishers.

Google Music will roughly mirror what Amazon showed off in March: A service that loads copies of music that users already own into an Internet-based server, which lets them stream the songs over the Web and onto Android phones and tablets. The Wall Street Journal first reported on Google’s plans.

Google had originally planned a more robust version of the concept, which it was going to introduce with cooperation from the labels. But as I reported last month, talks between Google and the labels, which started a year ago, have hit an impasse, and Google has apparently decided that it would rather launch a reduced version of a music service than none at all.

“Unfortunately, a couple of the major labels were less focused on the innovative vision that we put forward, and more interested in an unreasonable and unsustainable set of business terms,” says Jamie Rosenberg, who oversees digital content and strategy for Google’s Android platform.

The lack of licenses means that Google’s music service won’t have at least one thing that Amazon already has: The ability to sell songs to consumers. On the other hand, Rosenberg says that his service will have features that Amazon doesn’t, including a service that automatically creates playlists for users.

And at least initially, Google’s offering will have more free storage than Amazon does: The service–which rolls out in an invite-only beta tomorrow–will offer users the ability to store up to 20,000 songs without charge. Amazon’s service launched with 5 gigabytes of free storage, or the rough equivalent of about 2,000 songs, though it offered users the chance to upgrade to 20 gigabytes for a nominal fee.

Rosenberg says he expects Google Music to roll out to all U.S. Google users within weeks of launch. He wouldn’t offer specifics about future pricing plans, and said they might depend on the reception of the product’s launch. “I think we’re honestly going to learn from the beta experience, and think about opportunities for the long-term model,” he said.

But Rosenberg suggested that Google Music was designed to be at least partially free. “I think as Google typically does, I think the free aspect will continue to be very generous,” he said.

Meanwhile Apple is working on its own version of the same concept, but Steve Jobs and company seem to be having better luck with the labels than their counterparts. As of late April, Apple had signed on two of the four major music labels to a new licensing pact. Some music label executives expect to see a service launch next month.

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