When it comes to my music, I really try to do the right thing by the ones who create a product that gives me great joy. I always try to support artists I love, especially indie artists like Juliana Hatfield and Shannon Wright, who had the bravery to decide that music was what they were going to do with their lives, and damn everything else. Whenever possible, I try to buy the music directly from the artist. Ms. Hatfield has even started making unreleased tracks available on her website with a voluntary link to PayPal so you can pay if you like.
This is all leading somewhere, I promise.
I used to be a music purist, who would only listen to vinyl and/or reel-to-reel tape. Analog was where it was at. Eventually, CDs started replacing my vinyl, mostly for convenience and party because they would pretty much never degrade in sound quality over the years. I remember when CDs first arrived at a $18-20 price point, and all the major labels were promising that once manufacturing capability caught up, CDs would be down to the $7.99 to $9.99 that vinyl LPs were. We’ve all heard the story or have personally lived through it. Once the record companies found out that people were still buying music at $17-20 a disc, they had no incentive to drop the price by $7-10 per disc. At the same time they started gouging their consumers for music, they started stepping in the way at every turn of people copying music for themselves or their friends. Some of you may remember the furor of the “digital cassette” that tried to gain traction in the consumer marketplace. The RIAA didn’t like that at all. In fact, if the RIAA had its way (along with a method of tracking), there would be a tax on every mix tape anyone ever created for a friend.
When I was a kid, I got into music because my uncle would give me his old vinyl LPs when he got the same music replaced on 8-track tapes. That’s how I initially got into the Beatles, Yes, Jimi Hendrix, etc. And over the years I bought more music from them because I liked what I heard.
Fast forward to the weekend. I was looking for some tracks by this awesome band named Myracle Brah. The website had a few downloadable MP3’s, so I downloaded, listened, and wanted more. I was listening to them using Windows Media Player and was brought to a link where I could buy one of the albums online. I figured that if I could buy some of their stuff through Windows Media player that I could probably also try this “99 cent per song” thing through iTunes that I had heard about. So I downloaded iTunes and bought a couple albums from the band, since I didn’t want to wait for their CDs to arrive. I figured the money would go to them anyway when I paid for their album on iTunes, so it was pretty much the same as getting a CD, and I’d have the music immediately.
So I’m listening to the songs on my computer and decide to transfer them to my laptop so I can listen to them while I’m at work. My laptop is a Debian Linux box, but I figured there would be some application to listen to “m4p” files that I had received from iTunes. After all, Beep Media Player has plugins for just about any audio format.
Boy, was I wrong. Apparently, I need a computer “authorized” to play iTunes format, and that capability is not available through Linux. You can use VideoLAN to decode the files, but you first have to get a key from the computer that was authorized to play these files, then copy the key along with the files. Needless to say, I’m more than a little bit steamed about all this. I guess I shouldn’t be so amazed that I can’t play the files I paid for on any of my computers that I wish, let alone let any of my relatives have a listen on their own computers. I have several computers at home, including an Xbox configured with Xbox Media Center, from where I can play my MP3 collection. Basically, I can’t “host” the music files on one of my computers and use a shared folder to listen to them on any other computer in my own damn house.
It certainly looks to me like the argument the file-swappers make is accurate: Digital Management Rights only inconvenience those who legally buy the music. All I really have to do to get around this is make an analog copy of the file (play/record — hell, I can even make a very clean digital copy) and put it on a file sharing network and the deed is done. Why can’t we just pay for our music and then use it anywhere? I know I’m not the only one asking this, but it just seems ridiculous, if not unsurprising given how totally out of control the RIAA is getting. Witness this story where members of the RIAA dressed up in paramilitary garb to take down a guy in a parking lot, or this one where they’re suing a dead person for sharing music.
I’m not big on the MPAA either, but at the very least they usually offer HOURS of content and lots of interesting extras on DVDs that sell sometimes for less than a 30 minute CD. It really sucks when you try to do the right thing and you end up getting bitten in the ass for it. Hopefully more and more artists will start offering MP3’s on their own websites for purchase. I’ll pay. I don’t mind. I just want the ability to easily play that purchased music anywhere I want to listen to it. I guess that’s too much to ask from iTunes and the RIAA though.