The recording industry would have us believe that CD burners and MP3s are the spawn of Satan. While I don’t mourn their receding ability to sell a schlocky CD on the merit of one hit single, I fear we can only pillage so much before it comes back to bite us.
Millions of people didn’t use Napster because they were immoral thieves. They probably just figured they needed their twenty bucks a lot more than Metallica did. More importantly, it was a revolution of sorts; a way of taking power away from the over-wealthy and reclaiming art for the people. No, not thievery, but perhaps a small dose of communism.
The first problem is one you’re already aware of if you’ve been paying attention at all. The majority of artists are not near as wealthy as Metallica and need to be compensated for their work. They only make a pittance in royalties to begin with, when someone actually pays for a CD. This alone should be enough to make any argument for moral justification of free music fall apart.
The second problem is that the record companies won’t stand to be overthrown, and they are still powerful adversaries with a surplus of tricks up their sleeves.
CD sales are in a decline; they are too easy to download and burn. Because of this, we can expect a format change in the not-so-distant future. Will it be DVD audio? Encrypted MP3s? A new generation of CDs with built-in copyright enforcement features? It’s hard to say at this point, but whatever is blown our way by the winds of change is sure to be a headache for consumers.
I don’t view the sale of MP3s as a viable solution. The substandard sound quality is not something I’d want to pay for. I think it will be a while yet before the general music-buying public reconciles with the idea of paying money for something other than a product they can hold in their hands.
What about the artistic vision involved in creating an album as a unified whole? Won’t we be missing out on something if we download seven out of twelve tracks, arrange them in a different order, and burn them onto a CD with no cover art?
The DVD format has the potential to show us the other extreme. Sure, it seems pretty cool to have a disc that includes a full album plus videos, band biographies and interactive components, but what if these technological “enhancements” only serve to confuse the message? In simpler times, sitting down and just listening to a recording was enough of an event to capture our full attention.
I’m all for the idea of just sticking with CDs. After all, who’s really anxious to replace a collection of 200+ recordings because someone decided to stop making players for them? We already suffered that when vinyl went the way of the dinosaur, but that was a great boon to the record companies – exactly the sort of thing they’re looking for now.
Most irritating to me is the idea that we may see CDs that hinder piracy by forcing activation on the buyer’s player. What do I do if I want to play my music upstairs, downstairs, in the car, in the office, and on my portable unit while jogging? Will the security measures allow this? Will I be able to take a CD over to a friend’s house and play it there?
Here’s my advice to the recording industry: A solution to music piracy that alienates consumers is really no solution at all. It will only make it easier for them to justify the next free-for-all, when someone inevitably circumvents your copyright protection.
Cooney works as a programmer/analyst for a major Canadian book publisher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.