Take a look at this Wired article about a new service from MP3.com. Essentially, buy a CD from one of MP3.com's online retail partners, and their new Instant Listening Service will allow you to begin listening to it immediately over the Internet via a password-protected account.
The service works by simply giving the user's account access to the CD; because the music is already in the service's database the user doesn't have to worry about ripping, uploading, etc. According to the article, once the CD is in the user's account they may listen to it via any computer with an Internet connection.
A related service is called Beam-it. Using this service, users put a CD they own into their computer, and the site reads the track information, figures out which CD it is, and gives them access to that CD similar to the service above. Again, the music data itself is never read from the CD, which simplifies things for users and also eliminates the chance of music being illegally copied or distributed using the system.
The CEO at MP3.com envisions that people may one day forego purchase of the physical CD entirely, opting for online distribution only. I think the technology has a way to go before that becomes a viable option (Umm, what if I want to listen to it on my stereo?) but it's an interesting development nonetheless.
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