MP3.com All Over Again
Long before MP3.com was completely overrun with advertising, Michael Robertson had a brilliant idea. Let people prove they have a particular CD by placing it in their CD player, allowing subsequent online access to the CD. Play the tracks back at work, download the tracks, whatever. From MP3.com's perspective, you proved ownership of the CD when you inserted it in your CD tray the first time. If I remember correctly, MP3.com earned money by charging you to "store" a certain number of CDs with their service.
What MP3.com forgot to do was offer a cut to gatekeepers in the recording industry. Video rental chains like Blockbuster keep the movie industry in the money stream, which probably keeps the legal fees to a minimum for both sides. If a recoding industry payoff had taken place, we might be looking at an entirely different online music world today. MP3.com was harmless to the industry's bottom line compared to the file swapping services in existence today.
Flash forward almost a decade and products like Andromeda, from TurnStyle, allow anyone to host their own version of the original MP3.com on a Web server or on their home machine. Andromeda will even password protect access, keeping your MP3 or WMA serving private when you access your CD collection from work.
What Andromeda can't do is convert all your CDs to your favorite audio format. You could download all the tracks from a file sharing service, but quality is suspect and there's still an outside chance you will be settling with the RIAA someday. Ripping several hundred CDs takes forever; you probably have better things to do with your time. At least, that's the hope of CD conversion service Get Digital. The company cashes in on the inherent laziness of us all, offering to convert your entire music collection to digital - for a price.
To make the conversion happen, Get Digital requires physical receipt of every single CD you want converted. They provide the FedEx label, and claim most CD collections are converted in a few hours and returned the following day. Are they actually converting *your* CD collection or are they pulling files from a database of pre-converted songs? I'm guessing we won't know the answer unless someone sues them. Either way, they are giving you digital versions of your tracks after verifying you actually own the CD, just like MP3.com used to do. At $1-2 per CD, depending on the size of your collection, I'm guessing the company will get few takers, but the idea has merit.
Taking this in a different direction, verification of CD ownership, like Get Digital does when they physically verify your collection, or like MP3.com did electronically, is a step toward compromise between file sharing services and the record industry. I've heard plenty of file sharing users claim they only download electronic copies of CDs they already purchased. If this were really true, the RIAA should have no problem with file sharing. If all file sharing software required CD verification prior to download, users would be forced to put their CD collections to the test, eliminating many of the liars from the system.