Copy-Protected CDs

by Charles Miller on November 11, 2002

This really shits me. (link found on RockNerd) According to EMI Germany:

There are 250 Million blank CDRs and tapes bought and used this year for copying music in comparison to 213 Million prerecorded audio media. This means the owners are only being paid for 46 per cent of the musical content.

Bullshit. At every company I've worked for, we've gone through CD-R's quicker than we go through coffee. Backups, software distribution, file-transfers, coasters, you name it. When I was in Perth, the ISP I worked for couldn't find an economical CD pressing deal, so whoever was on the front desk would spend each day making sure the burner was cutting copies of our setup software. In contrast, most music copying goes on purely electronically, from hard drive to hard drive. (Then again, I haven't personally used a p2p file-sharing network in a very long time. I deleted Napster long before they crashed into nothingness because I used it so rarely. I was far more likely to get interesting things from my friends than an impersonal search-engine)

The number of blank CDs sold is absolutely no indication of the amount of music that is being copied. It's a red herring.

Copy-protecting CDs is worthless. Because the music is digital from start to finish, it just takes one copy to leak out unprotected and it's game-over—that one copy can multiply endlessly. Look at how the best quality pirated video CDs are transferred straight from film “borrowed” from the official distribution system. Look at how many popular CDs make it to the Internet before the music is officially released to the public. Do the maths.

All CD copy-protection does is inconvenience the consumer. It limits the devices we can play our discs on. It prevents us from playing them on our portable mp3 players. And yes, it prevents us from casually ripping them and sending them to our friends. (Although, as I said above, those songs will still end up on your p2p network of choice)

I have a friend called Susan, and we share a similar obsession with music. Our tastes are quite different, but that's more the influence of what was around us. The problem was, back in 1996 she lived in Idaho, so if I wanted to play her a new song I'd heard that I thought was really cool, I had to rip it and send her the mp3. I played her stuff she didn't usually get exposed to: trip-hop, brit-pop, Australian alternative music, even some obscure American stuff she'd never heard of.

A year or two later, she visited me in Perth (well, actually she lived with me for three months, but that's an entirely different story). She brought her CD collection with her in a big black case (this was before the advent of the portable mp3 player, and us music obsessives won't go anywhere without several hours of music). In the case I found a great many CDs that she had bought on the strength of the mp3s I had sent over the years, money to the record companies and the artists. Free money, because I paid the promotional costs.

Good music spreads. Music is something essential to the human spirit. There is no other art-form that grabs us, that speaks so directly to our emotions. Look at cinema. You can have all the great acting and cinematography you want, but if they really want to get a strong emotional reaction from the audience, they turn up the music. When we hear a good song, we want to play it to our friends, it's just that when before we could just invite them round and play the CD, now our reach is global.

Markets are conversations. By stifling the casual conversations in a way that does nothing to disrupt the large-scale, impersonal copying, the record companies are stifling their market. The just don't notice, because it's a new market. It's money on top of what they were making before, and they're killing it with their ignorant knee-jerking.

I will never buy a copy-protected CD. It's impractical because these days, a CD I can't transfer to my iPod is a CD I'll barely end up listening to. The day a CD comes out that I want, but that only exists in a copy-protected form, is the day I return to the p2p networks. I bet you any money I'll find the whole album there. If an industry believes that its oligopoly is an excuse to treat customers like criminals, then I will quite happily satisfy their presumption.

Previously: Misc 0x0001

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