Mudda knows best?

January 27, 2004

Another week, another round of ranting about where the music industry is going…

BusinessWeek is suggesting that the RIAA’s latest round of lawsuits is their worst move yet, as in addition to pissing off their customers (a strategy that only seems to work well for telcos), they are engaged in a tail-chasing digital arms race—and that they’ll always be on the short (and expensive) end of the stick.  Clay Shirky points out that the RIAA succeeds where the cypherpunks failed by making encryption ever more commonplace among the general public—something all of the cypherpunk’s warnings and big-brother privacy invasions had failed to do to-date.

Meanwhile, Brian Eno and Peter Gabrial have announced MUDDA—the Magificent Union of Digitally Downloadable Artists, with a goal of providing enabling technology and exposure for artists to release their own works online, at their own price, without help from record labels.

It’s unclear however what (if any) DRM measures will be manditory or optional for artists who elect to participate in MUDDA—and a lot of people are starting to realize that DRM is potentially a Really Big Deal.

When a song is purchased that includes DRM (Digital Rights Management), you are purchasing =less= than you got when you bought a CD a scant year or two ago.  What’s missing is your ability to decide how you want to exercise your fair use rights—make a copy to listen to in the car, rip it to the computer and put the original away, etc.  Instead, you end up with a license (enforced by software) that decides whether you can listen to it on multiple computers, burn it to a CD, etc.  Worse, if you’re a US citizen, it’s a crime (a DMCA violation) to remove this crap in order to exercise the fair use rights that were upheld by the Supreme Court only a few years ago.

Okay, so perhaps you’re thinking “Not a big deal—I want to listen to it on my computer, and maybe burn two CDs—and this online music download site allows that.” Which is dandy.  For now.

Now that everybody and their brother are putting music purchase sites online, there is sooner or later bound to be a shakeout.  What happens when you’ve bought that song from “Mario&Louigi.Com” and two years later they’re gone?  Will you be able to copy it to your new computer, or MP3 player?  Will it support the new Windows Media Player 59.6?  Or Quicktime 64?  Or will you have to go “buy” (license) it again if you want to listen to it again?  Or burn a CD and rip a lossy 2nd generation copy?

Lots of discussion out there about this right now.  I tend to agree with this article from Boing Boing regarding “buying open”.

One point I think it misses, however—if you’re filling out your “digital backlist” of older titles, why not head down to your favorite local used CD store and see if you can find it—it’ll probably be cheaper than buying it from an online site, you won’t be putting an extra nickle in the RIAA’s coffers (if it was from an RIAA label, they’ve already sucked their pint of blood out of it), and you can rip it yourself in your own preferred format with no nasty restrictions to take away your rights.


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