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Tim Walker: 'Like a charity mugger, Roberta from Spotify is secretly after my money'

The Couch Surfer

Monday 13 April 2009 00:00 BST

I'm in love with a disembodied voice. She's called Roberta, and she's from Spotify, the popular music streaming service. I know this because she tells me her name, repeatedly. "Hi, I'm Roberta from Spotify," she says, interrupting my latest playlist to introduce herself. Hello, Roberta from Spotify, I reply; I'd be annoyed that you disturbed my first listen of the new Bat For Lashes album, if you didn't sound so darned lovely. "I hope you're enjoying Spotify as much as we do..." Roberta, I surely am.

Like a charity mugger who snares you with a smile, then proceeds to extract your credit card details and £2 a month to save tree-grubs in Venezuela, Roberta from Spotify is secretly after my money - £9.99 a month to be exact, for Spotify's premium service, which is free of advertisements and full of exclusive content. Every time I hear it, I'm tempted by her siren-call; but if premium really means ad-free, then I wouldn't get to hear any more of that voice. It's a conundrum.

I called Spotify to find out who this lusciously-larynxed lass is, and it turns out I'm not her only suitor. In fact, she's becoming an inadvertent online celebrity, a sort of Howard-from-the-Halifax for the digital generation. The Spotify bods were unaware of her cult following until they started to air ads by some bloke called "Jonathan from Spotify" instead, only to receive a flood of emails from concerned listeners asking after Roberta.

Since Spotify is based in Stockholm, it seems many male fans have come to the same conclusion: she's Swedish. Therefore she's a Swedish girl. And so on. But I'm reliably informed that Roberta Maley - yes, that's her name - is actually from the West Midlands. Hence the wacky accent. She works in the company's London office, with the title of "business development (premium services)," and a good job she's doing, too.

Apparently, some bloggers have started to ask intrusive personal questions about Roberta's favourite breakfast cereal and the like, even demanding face-to-face interviews. Let me clarify: I did not do either of these.

But if I did get the chance to interview Roberta, I'd be totally professional about the whole thing. We could meet at a place and time of her choosing. Over breakfast, maybe (I like Frosties, btw). Or dinner, if she'd prefer. And I'd pick up the tab, obviously.

Until last week, Roger Friedman was a gossip columnist for the Fox News website. Then he discovered something called internet piracy. When a rough cut of the forthcoming X-Men prequel Origins: Wolverine leaked online, Friedman - along with about a million other people - decided to sneak a look. Minutes later, he was watching it at his desk. He didn't even have to download it; the whole movie was streamed direct from some dubious website. How clever, he thought.

So gleeful was Friedman that he wrote a review of the unfinished film on his blog, Fox 411. The problem wasn't so much that he'd broken the law; at least six million people break the same one in the UK every year. It was that he'd stolen from his own employers, and then announced to the world just how easy it was: "much easier than going out in the rain!"

Wolverine, you see, is produced by Twentieth Century Fox, which, like Fox News, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. And it just so happens that Wolverine star Hugh Jackman, who was "heartbroken" by the leak, is a close friend of the Murdochs. Friedman, the poor sap, seemed surprised when he was shown the door. Fox should, at least, thank their erstwhile employee for giving Wolverine the thumbs-up: "It exceeds expectations at every turn," Friedman wrote. "It's miles easier to understand than The Dark Knight..."

The rest of us should thank him, too. Not for his movie criticism; anyone who thought The Dark Knight was hard to understand shouldn't be allowed near long sentences, let alone a film review. But for proving that piracy is a piece of piss, even if you're a beginner.

Friedman's confession means even Murdoch can't pretend piracy is a niche activity anymore. Those at the top of the movie industry need to start competing with it, instead of thinking they can stop it. It would involve some very complicated licensing agreements, but how about an ad-supported service that streams films for free, or loses the ads for the price of a monthly subscription? Now where have I heard that idea before?

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