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Digital music’s future A-OK sez MP3 boss

But beware the major labels warn artists

SAN DIEGO — MP3.com CEO Michael Robertson opened the MP3 Summit on Tuesday by declaring that the “digital music space has been through its darkest hour.”

But despite the recent settlement of lawsuits and the legal steps being taken to prevent piracy, panelists following Robertson’s upbeat keynote said that the complicated dynamic between music labels, artists and Internet music companies is still far from being clarified.

The form of what the next generation of digital music will be was debated by the 1,500 onlookers at the confab, which runs through today (Wednesday) at the University of California at San Diego.

Panelists spoke of a celestial jukebox, where Netizens can download any music any time and anywhere — all within the boundaries of copyright law.

“The Internet is supposed to be a medium of efficiency,” said Richard Conlon, veepee of business development at BMI. “Sites we’ve teamed with can tally all of their songs, and even it’s it just a fraction of a cents, that money is going to go to the right people.”

Artists, on the other hand, claimed that the major problem is not between the talent and Internet companies — it’s how the major labels are trying to implement their standards onto the new media.

“All you Internet companies who think you’re going to go up against the majors, the majors will eat you and destroy you,” said rapper Ice T. “They can sue you and make you compromise…get ready to work for the man again.”

The recent settlement between MP3.com, Warner Music Group and BMG was glossed over by Robertson, who said he envisions his Netco as eventually providing the backbone technology to make digital music available beyond the computer.

“Opening the door to music access is the key to making it ubiquitous,” he said. “I think 12 months from now we’re going to see some really amazing technologies.”

And of course, it wouldn’t be an Internet confab without a bevy of announcements.

Netcaster TuneTo.com announced it teamed with broadband carrier US West to be part of the company’s Online Avenue portal for high-speed Internet users. In addition, geek Web site CNET bowed their own music portal, which will compete with MP3.com.

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