Monday, February 9, 2009

Meet the Policy Day Panelists: Justin Ouellette of Muxtape

This post is part of a series on DC Policy Day, which takes place on Wednesday, February 11 at National Geographic's Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, DC. Read previous entries here.

Way back in March 2008, 25 year-old graphic designer and photographer Justin Ouellette unveiled Muxtape — a gloriously simple online music service that quickly endeared itself to music fans around the world.

Based on the old-school cassette mixtape, Muxtape 1.0 was a user-friendly, clutter-free website that let users upload their own playlists using music from their own collections, to be streamed by others. "[Muxtape's] intended purpose is to introduce you to new music that you would then hopefully go and buy," Justin said at the time. The idea caught on incredibly quickly, with 8,685 registered users in the first day, and 97,748 in the first month. The facilitated music discovery, and everyone seemed to love it.

Well, maybe not everyone.

Pretty much from the moment the site went live, Justin received notices from the RIAA (the trade group that claims to represent the US recording industry) and the major labels about infringing content. The RIAA asked Justin to remove a handful of specific mixes, and he complied. Not long after, Justin entered negotiations with the majors to find a way for Muxtape to continue while providing compensation to copyright holders. (You can read the story in Justin's own words here.) Although the negotiations had their hiccups, Justin was certain the negotiations were taking place in good faith and that the terms for a legit Muxtape might eventually be agreed upon.

(Re)enter the RIAA. Justin hadn't heard from them in a while, which he chalked up to the negotiations with the majors, Then, in August 2008, he received notice from Amazon Web Services (who hosted Mutape's files and servers) that he had one business day to business day to remove all the songs on his site or have the Muxtape servers shut down and all data deleted. Still thinking it was some kind of misunderstanding, Justin hastily tacked up a not about “a problem with the RIAA," and the site went dark. And it stayed that way until recently.

And so I made one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever faced: I walked away from the licensing deals. They had become too complex for a site founded on simplicity, too restrictive and hostile to continue to innovate the way I wanted to. They’d already taken so much attention away from development that I started to question my own motivations. I didn’t get into this to build a big company as fast as I could no matter what the cost, I got into this to make something simple and beautiful for people who love music, and I plan to continue doing that. As promised, the site is coming back, but not as you’ve known. I’m taking a feature that was in development in the early stages and making it the new central focus.

The new Muxtape is a service exclusively for bands. It will, in Justin's words, allow indie acts to "upload their own music and offer an embeddable player that works anywhere on the web, in addition to the original Muxtape format." The redesigned service is currently in beta, but will be relaunched "in the coming weeks," according to a notice on the site.

We're thrilled to have Justin appear on the "Fair Trade Music: Toward a Legitimate Digital Music Marketplace" panel at DC Policy Day on Wednesday, February 11 at National Geographic's Grosvenor Auditorium. The clock is ticking for online registrations (we'll be taking walk-ups as space permits) — head here to reserve your spot.

Can't make it to DC? Policy Day 2009 will also be webcast live, via

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