The death of the Compact Disc, part 2

Continued from part 1:

While a person’s physical music collection is (at least to the owner) priceless, there’s a genuinely calculable and traceable dollar value that can be attached to the legal contents of the “My Music” folder of your hard drive. This, in my opinion, actually de-values the music and therefore the artistic worth of the original work. Their efforts have been reduced to a few megabytes which, on a more fruitful note, at least could potentially appear on several million folks’ hard drives or, instead of gathering mildew in a warehouse somewhere.

The smart thing to do is to make a backup of said folder… but is that actually desired by the music industry? Why would they want you to be able to listen to that MP3 until you fucking well die? Do they have the interests of the consumer/fan and the artist at heart, or is there some new format on the horizon?

Remember that this is the same “industry” that, until quite recently, shoved DRM down our throats and attempted to dictate when, where, how often, and on what device you may listen to music that you did legally purchase and download. It’s the same industry that continues to charge you 99c per track (or about 10 dollars for a full album) of recordings that were made some 30 or 50 years ago! It’s the same industry that milks any artist whose catalogue they have the rights to for years on end. Something’s not right.

And what of the legalities of a backup or 2nd-hand ownership?

If there’s a CD/tape/DVD/LP/MD in my collection that I don’t like anymore, I could either toss it, sell it, or give it away to someone else. Nobody seems to have an issue with that — by owning the piece of plastic that contains the sounds, I automatically also own the right to play those contents as and where I choose. Or do I? A transfer of ownership of the physical sound carrier naturally leads to a transfer of rights of the contents thereof (although it obviously does not include claiming ownership of the sound recordings).

And what of backups or rips of that CD? In theory, I should destroy them.

In practice, that is unlikely to happen. Those ripped songs will, in all likelihood, remain on the CD’s previous owner’s hard drive. Matters can get a little more involved should the previous owner have burnt the MP3 rips of his favourite songs onto a CD-ROM so that he could listen to it (along with perfectly legal rips of other CDs he owns) in the car or via the laptop at the office.

What is he to do — re-burn the CD-ROM without those now “illegal” MP3s? Yeah, right!

He can’t give it away, he can’t keep it. In fact, it’s not allowed to exist anymore.

Imagine now that our original owner dies. Chances are that relatives would inherit his CD/vinyl/music collection and absorb them into their own if the tastes are compatible. Or sell the whole lot if not, or is known to be worth something. Or a bit of both. Or neither, it becomes landfill. The physical media has value. It exists as some sort of tangible matter, even if only as coasters or artwork or raw material for the local recycling plant.

Downloads going for a song

Now what about that hard drive full of MP3 and AAC files? Gosh, there must be some 2,000 songs that Gramps downloaded since he discovered the internet… can someone else claim them as his own? Can ownership of a music file be transferred? Can it be re-sold? Can one re-sell that old 10GB hard drive for the bargain-basement price of 100 bucks, especially since Gramps coughed up some 99c for each of those songs?

Music downloads: not much bang for your buck, is there?

As a matter of fact, do I, who have inherited the real estate of dead Gramps, even have a right to sell it — partially or as a complete package? Am I now the owner of those legally-acquired MP3s? If not, does that mean Gramps (who paid for them) could ever have called himself the “owner”?

The music industry, guard-dogged by the IFPI, probably wouldn’t like you to think so.

CD vs. vinylNeither the artist nor the record company sees a dime through the sale of second-hand records, and since less people are buying records or CDs, music downloads provide them with ample opportunity to flog those tired, dead horses again and again, just like they did when CDs first came out in 1983. It’s the same industry that released entire back catalogues for twice the price on this new-fangled laser-thingy called “CD” almost 25 years ago, little short of promising that you’d never have to buy this album again and that you can listen to it until eternity… on CD, and it’s the same industry that turned a blind eye to consumers making selective backups of their music collection while crying “foul play”, yet indirectly supporting another industry that produced the backup media. “Taping” it was called in those days. Home taping was supposed to have killed music, they claimed.

And then computers came along, home computers that allowed you to make multiple digital backups for yourself and your neighbour’s dog, with little effort and no (read: negligible) loss of fidelity.

So I’m openly advocating online music piracy?

Hardly. What I am saying is that the price of music downloads doesn’t relate to the perceived value of a physical product — an opinion seemingly shared by several others.

For a digital download to be worth as much as a physical CD, it has to at least match the quality level of the CD… so it should be offered as lossless files. Even then, it’s worth a little less because I’m not getting cover art or a CD or a case; I have to provide all those things myself. – mdulcey

The ubiquity of the MP3 format and downloads has devalued music as a prime source of entertainment. In digital format, songs (read: files) are nothing more than some disposable commodity or data stream. White noise. Something to drown out the jabber of the foul-mouthed brat next to you on the train during your daily commute.

“One thing is clear, though. Despite the efforts of the RIAA, downloading is still going strong.”

The MP3 Police
According to the latest IFPI report, “in the US, Europe and Australia, independent research confirms that teenagers and young adults – the generation of future music consumers – acquire the most unlicensed music. Jupiter Research found in 2008 that one in three 15-24 year olds in Europe uses copyright infringing P2P networks – three times the proportion that consumes music legally.”

Everyone wants a piece of the pie

But were it not for exactly that exact demographic copying, pirating and downloading music and, in doing so, shaping their own tastes and likes for when they do grow older and start to earn that disposable income which the industry craves, they’d be selling squat to begin with.

“Peer-to-peer is attractive to folks who are money-poor and time-rich, like teens or college kids,” says Koleman Strumpf after a 2004 study by Harvard Business School and University of North Carolina. “But it’s unlikely they would be able to buy all of that music in the absence of filesharing.”

“Nearly everyone agrees that the artists need to be compensated for the music that people are downloading. The problem is that some see filesharing as a way of ripping artists off and some see it as a technology that, if harnessed correctly, could cut out the middleman and benefit the artists even more. But even after five years, it’s still too early to tell which way downloading will go.”

Stealing is such a nasty word. Burning CDs and cloning SD cards full of music. The CD-R/RW drive today is analogous to the tape decks of the 70s, 80s, and 90s where the majority of boomboxes and component decks came standard with two decks, and of all those dual-tape decks, most had a feature called “Highspeed dubbing”! The purpose of which was to COPY, FAST. If copying music was so bad and taboo then why did nearly every major electronics manufacturer design these things to do just that? No one made all the hype about unpurchased music then and with artists going double and triple platinum (even to this day) the industry survived.

Fast forward to today and there are 10 times more CD-R/RWs floating around with music on them than there ever was of blank tapes. Especially factoring in that blank CDs are coming in large bulk caches of 50-100 count plus, and CD drives are are dirt cheap at $50 or less now. And I won’t even mention how fast CDs can be copied. – MrGadgetman

By selling you what I consider an inferior product or the means to store, transport or stream it there are companies that would go under were it not for file sharing or, more explicitly, music piracy. It has a purpose, and those who benefit from it are not your usual suspects.

You see, in the days before the evil internet, it was those who sold products under the brand names of TDK, BASF, Maxell, Sony, Kenwood, Denon, etc. that legally benefited from (analogue) music piracy. In fact, they nothing short of promoted it by marketing blank tapes of 74-minute duration — just right for a Red Book audio CD.

Did they honestly think we’re out there recording birdsong?

Now the same loot is divided amongst those with names like Verizon, Cisco, Dell, SanDisk, Sony, Apple, Verbatim, LinkSys, Western Digital, Vodafone, and Nokia as well as repeat offenders TDK, Sony, and Maxell.

Meanwhile, us consumers will all be merrily buying larger hard drives (plural, because of the spare one for off-site storage) and faster computers to manage our growing collection of music downloads via utilities like Songbird and iTunes, permanently connected to the ‘net so we can hook up to an aggregator or RSS feed that displays live information on the artist and the song that’s currently playing on your NAS.

It’s obvious then that ISPs are happily buying into the duty of policing our downloading habits because, well, it provides opportunity for them to sell us fatter pipes with which to download all the extra fluff that was never there before and nobody ever needed or bothered with.

The future of the old-fashioned album on this isolated thing called “compact disc” is, to say the least, bleak, and we have only ourselves to blame for it. By figuring out how to rip and compress and shamelessly “share” the contents of the disc that still defines the physical width of the average desktop tower-case PC, we’ve played into our governments’ so-called counter-terrorism measures via the music industry’s hands by making the digital format the de-facto standard for new music released and everything else that it spawns: ringtones, games, soundtracks, advertising, musicals, Guitar Hero!

There’s a huge market for digital music — and the knowledge of your online habits.

In 2008, “Warner Music released four singles and two EPs by Jason Mraz using a ‘windowing strategy’ to build anticipation for the release of his album ‘We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things’. All this extra content was included in the premium album bundle, which outsold the standard version by three to one and became the top ‘complete my album’ offering on iTunes in the US. Further evidence was provided by Madonna’s Hard Candy album, which was made available for pre-release order on iTunes in the US in April, when the premium US$13.99 version outsold the standard US$11.99 version eight to one.”

“The only thing we can confidently say is that filesharing makes some people buy more records and some other people buy fewer records,” says Fred Von Lohmann, Staff Attorney for the Electronic Freedom Foundation. “But there’s no very clear data on what the ultimate balance of the situation is.”

AM/FM radio, CDs, music magazines, many consumer Hi-Fi equipment vendors, brick ‘n mortar music stores, they’re all fatalities of the MP3 format — with the exception of vinyl, oddly: Vinyl appears to have survived the digital revolution, and some seem to have recognised the duality of music fandom (or know how to prey on skeptics). It’s not only club deejays still flying the vinyl flag.

In 1986, Queen became the first artist to re-release their entire catalogue on the then-new CD format. Starting 2009, they’ll be re-releasing their entire back catalogue again — this time on heavyweight vinyl.

The irony is that some of us may end up ripping our CDs to MP3/FLAC for casual listening and re-purchasing our favourite CDs on virgin vinyl.

Looks like I’ll have to get me a turntable again.

And if this entire tirade sounded like I’m a little confused about the future direction my music listening/collection habits will take… well, yes. I am.

Image credits: Unknown  + Philips

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