Jook: The DIY Music Player That May Never See the Light of Day

"There’s something nice about having a curated music collection."

This past Christmas, Chris Patty’s family gift exchange had one rule: Every present needed to be handmade, so the 25-year-old web developer made a jukebox from $75 worth of parts for his dad. Instead of punching in a code to play a song, users swipe a card with a magnetic stripe to play a song from Spotify. It not only one-upped the rest of his family’s gifts, it won over thousands of makers, audiophiles, and technophiles across the Internet.

Patty tweeted a video of his creation a day after Christmas that has now amassed more than 36,400 likes and 8,000 retweets. Footage of the devices has been reposted across Reddit and garnered close to 20,000 upvotes as well as many comments expressing interest in buying the device.

The device, named Jook, looks as if a “woodie” station wagon was fused together with an Amazon Echo speaker. It’s slightly taller than a loaf of Wonder bread and has infatuated DIY communities online. Fans of the cute music player piled on the praise, calling it awesome, beautiful, and inspiring.

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Patty first designed the Jook's box on the 3D modeling program, SketchUp.

Jook’s overwhelmingly positive reception has a lot to do with people yearning to take back the feeling of physical ownership of music in an age of streaming, Pattys tells Inverse.

“I think [its] success is kind of a testament that people want something tactile with their music,” he said. ”I love Spotify, but there’s something nice about having a curated music collection you can show people and play without the hassle of getting out your phone and connecting to a speaker.”

Encouraged by the positive reaction to that Christmas season tweet, Patty began the crowdfunding process on Kickstarter. He’s come up with the slogan (“Analog music, made modern”) and published getjook.com, where interested people can join an email newsletter about it. He’s vague about the future but goes far to say he’s set a soft goal to have the campaign ready in the next few months.

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He used his dad's woodworking tools to make the box.

Things were going really well for the beloved, toaster-sized stereo that uses twee little cards to play songs out of a cute speaker. But the loveable piece of retro tech might be doomed: Copyright law could ground the Jook before it’s even had a chance to takeoff.

If Patty tries to sell the song cards he’ll be guaranteeing himself a subpoena because he doesn’t own the rights to any of the tunes embedded in the magstripe. That could confine the Jook to being a piece of DIY tech that only Patty and his family can enjoy, instead of becoming a novel way for audiophiles to listen to music.

There’s a long history of innovative music players that were hampered by similar legal issues.

Mitch Stoltz, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation specializing in the intersection of innovation and copyright tells Inverse that the Jook could very well become one of them.

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A Raspberry Pi 2 runs the software and a card reader is embedded into the lid.

“The problem with music and copyright is that almost any inventive way of using music raises legal risks,” he said. “Because the recording industry, going back to its earliest beginning, has always wanted to control the ways people experience music.”

Patty might have an ace up his sleeve to rescue the Jook.

How It Works

To create each card for his dad, Patty built software that automatically pulls the album information and artwork using the Spotify API and he sourced the music files from iTunes. But the commercial one would work a little differently.

Instead of come with pre-downloaded MP3 files, it would use the the card-making software to also pull the Spotify URL, or song ID, and then stream the song based on that number. So all the user has to do is search for a song once to embed all the information it needs to play on the Jook’s cards.

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Patty created software that pulls the pulls the album art and information using each song's Spotify URI to generate printable sheets.

The program lays out a printable card and stores the song in a file managed by the the Jook’s internal computer, a credit card-sized Raspberry Pi 2 Model B. Once users print the card, they swipe it using a built-in magstripe reader, which decodes the URL saved inside. That number is then fed to the Jook’s computer which finds the saved song using the code and begins to play it through the USB-connected speaker.

Stoltz says trying to sell pre-printed cards along with the Jook would be just like trying to profit off of pirated music and would be shut down quickly. But if Patty was to sell his card printing software and market it for personal use only, he may have a case.

“That would fall in a legal grey area,” said Stoltz “If you sell a smartphone for example, anyone can copy music and put it in the phone and there’s nothing illegal about that.”

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A sheet of song cards ready to print.

That won’t cover all of Patty’s bases though. Stoltz noted that selling products that encourage consumers to use them in an illegal manner could land him in hot water. That was the crux of the 2005 MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. case that led to the shutdown of peer-to-peer file sharing services Grokster, Streamcast, and eventually Limewire.

Grokster and its counterparts distributed free software that let people share files without the use of a central server. Most users shared copyrighted files, like full albums and movies, while Grokster profited from advertising revenue by streaming ads to users. A group of copyright holders sued, claiming that the software breaches the Copyright Act because Grokster was intentionally distributing it to let users acquire copyrighted works for free.

The peer-to-peer sharing company won its first two court battles in district court and in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but its hopes were cut short by the Supreme Court. The justices ruled unanimously that Grokster and its sister services were promoting copyright infringement and were liable for the resulting acts. The Jook could technically be on the receiving end of a similar decision if Patty’s card-printing software were to become widely popular.

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Could the Jook go down the same path as Grokster, Napster, and LimeWire?

“Entrepreneurs who come up with new ways of experiencing music have a very long tradition of being sued,” said Stoltz. “I’m going back to Thomas Edison and the phonograph here. The earliest MP3 players faced lawsuits. The video cassette recorder faced lawsuits. YouTube has faced lawsuit throughout its existence. Frankly, player piano has faced lawsuits.

But not all hope is lost.

Sony emerged victorious from a VCR lawsuit in 1984 that nearly made recording TV shows illegal, and YouTube is still standing today. The Jook could one day be a part of the long lineage of audio inventions that changed the music landscape. As Patty told me in our interview, it could enable Spotify diehards experience their online collection of music like never before, ushering in a new era of analog music listening in the age of streaming. But the future of the Jook is foggy.

For now, the only person that gets to enjoy it is Patty’s dad and he’s pretty much renounced his smart home devices for it.

“He loved it. He uses it all the time now,” said Patty. “He’s got it sitting next to a Google Home that’s connected to his Spotify but he never uses that — he just uses the jukebox.”