By "puritanism" I presume he means being morally pure and obeying the law of music copyright. Now, I like WebJay and admire its goals of making it easy for people to create and share music playlists. But as yet I've not been able to 'dig' it. Partly it's because I don't have broadband at home. But mostly it's because I can't legally link to the music that I like. That is, I can't create the playlists I want to because so much of the music I like isn't freely available on the Internet.
Play it Strange and Lucid3
I'll give you an example. Recently I discovered a fantastic New Zealand band called Lucid3. They're a "funk-groove" rock n' roll band, fronted by a very talented woman called Victoria Girling-Butcher (singer/guitarist/songwriter). I discovered this band on a recent television music promotion for Play it Strange, a new charitable trust formed to encourage young kiwis "to make, and experiment in, music which will reflect NZ's unique characteristics, thereby encouraging creativity and innovation in NZ music". Play it Strange is a great initiative and to launch it they had a weekend-long showcase of New Zealand music on one of New Zealand's 3 major TV networks. Yes you heard right, 48 hours straight of NZ music on national free-to-air television! One of the advantages of living in a small country... that sort of thing would never happen in the US or UK (or even Australia for that matter, I suspect).
Anyway I saw Lucid3 during the Play it Strange launch and was blown away by them, so I bought their debut album Running Down The Keys. It's been out for a couple of years, so I'm slow off the mark. In fact their second album All Moments Leading To This was just released today and I intend to go and buy it at my earliest opportunity.
But, here's the thing. I can't point you to a legal full-length MP3 of any of Lucid3's singles. The best I can do is point you here, which has 45-second samples of some of their songs. And you can't really get the feel of this band within 45 seconds. They're a groove band, so almost by definition their songs take time to get into - because they're so laid back. And their songs are the kind that you need to hear in full to truly appreciate them, which is testament to Girling-Butcher's songwriting ability I think.
So even if I wanted to (and I do), I can't include Lucid3 and a lot of other kiwi bands in any WebJay playlist. It's frustrating for me as a user and it's frustrating to Lucas no doubt because it places limits on his service. But the thing which really gets me is that the band itself, Lucid3, is missing out on a pretty good opportunity for promoting their music to overseas punters. OK WebJay is a small drop in the sea in terms of numbers of users, but it's growing fast and you never know who is tuning in. Maybe the playlist which includes Lucid3 gets passed around the link chain of the Web and eventually a record company honcho in the States clicks on the link...
Song of the Week
Some people have gotten around this moral dilemma. One example from my blogroll is Keith Robinson's Song of the Week feature. Every week Keith uploads a song he likes to his custom-built Flash-based application, so his readers can listen to it. It's a nifty little feature and he gets good feedback from his readers on it. But interestingly, he doesn't pay any licence fees for the songs and he's not overly concerned with the legalities of it. He says:
"I think as long as you stick to one song from an album and go no further than that my guess is you’ll be fine. I doubt the Performing Rights Society would go after you for something like this, but that is just a guess."
He also points out elsewhere that he's promoting the artist and essentially doing them a favour. I agree (see above), but I'm not so sure as Keith that using only one song from an album is a legal defense. I probably wouldn't get it away with it using NZ music. One of the disadvantages of living in a small country is that it'd be relatively easy for NZ music copyright authorities to track me down and punish me for my 'crime'.
Moral of the Story
By not having the opportunity to legally link to music for playlists or 'song of the week' purposes, the users of the websites lose, the owners of the websites lose, and most importantly the artists loses (it's essentially an opportunity cost). Who wins? The bloody lawyers of course.
Unless... unless Lucid3 give me permission to link to a couple of their full-length songs for a playlist. That would make me happy. Hope for a free culture springs eternal.