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Extended iTunes Store Song Samples Held Up Over Licensing Issues

Just two days before Apple's media event last week, CNET reported that Apple was set to extend the length of song samples in the iTunes Store from 30 seconds to as much as 90 seconds, offering consumers greater opportunity to determine whether they were interested in purchasing the content. Despite the fact that the information seemed fairly solid, the change did not come to pass at the event.

CNET follows up today, explaining that deployment of the extended-length samples has been held up due to licensing issues.

"We are in active negotiations with Apple," about the length of song samples, said Hanna Pantle, a spokeswoman for Broadcast Music Inc., (BMI) one of the performing-rights organizations that collects royalties on behalf of songwriters and music publishers. She declined to provide any details.

The report claims that Apple has obtained the blessing of the four major record companies to extend samples to 90 seconds, while its existing contract with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) apparently does not impose any time limits on song samples, but even with all of that leverage behind it, Apple was still unable to roll out the enhancement at last week's event.

Leaders at the National Music Publishers Association, the largest trade trade group representing music publishers, informed Apple that it couldn't offer extended samples until reaching an agreement with them. But that's not the whole story. Some from the music sector say Apple simply tried to rush a deal through and misjudged its ability to get a deal done without agreements from all the necessary parties. Apple has made it clear that it doesn't want to pay to license song samples, insiders say, and even they acknowledge that Apple also wants to avoid the nightmare that other music services have gone through when trying to obtain licenses from untold numbers of rights holders.

According to the report, the National Music Publishers Association was tipped off to Apple's plan by CNET's original article and, on the advice of legal counsel, approached Apple on the day before the media event to express its view that extended song samples could not issued without discussions and licensing with the group.

The report notes that the discussions over extending the length of song samples may have broader implications as well, testing the waters for Apple's much-rumored ultimate goal of providing cloud-based streaming of users' iTunes libraries. In addition, Google is said to be closely watching the developments as it prepares to roll out its own music service later this year.