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January 2, 2008

Copy Your Own CDs, Face Liability

The music industry is in trouble.  Nielson Soundscan stated that CD sales fell 21.4% for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2007 compared to the same stretch of time in 2006.  Apparently giving the gift of music means a gift card for a download or subscription service rather than a physical disc.  These are a better fit for consumers who listen to music walking on the street, sitting on a train, or anywhere else not near a CD player.  But legal downloads just haven't offset the drop in CD sales.  One guess as to why is that the DRM mandated sales are not as convenient when consumers seek real portability for their music.  And besides, consumers own a sizable amount of digital music on legally purchased CDs.  Who wants to buy the same thing twice?  Not that the labels haven't forced us to do that before, what with compilations and greatest hit collections.  No longer, though.  Every song is a single with most download services.  Still, as far as the labels are concerned, we're not buying enough music.

No wonder, then, that the RIAA is desperately ramping up legal arguments that copying a legally purchased physical CD to a computer or a player is piracy.  Doping that may not get you noticed enough to generate a lawsuit on its own, but once in the cross hairs of a file sharing suit, well, having your own legally purchased music on your hard drive is just another avenue for liability.  That is, assuming the RIAA can get a court to recognize the precedent.  They are trying.  They've made the argument in papers filed in an Arizona court against Jeffrey Howell.  He allegedly copied around 2,000 of his CDs to his computer in addition to whatever allegations there are about file sharing.  the RIAA calls these "unauthorized copies."  This argument, of course, puts everyone who ever copied a CD to an MP3 player in jeopardy. 

In spite of the morality of legitimate copyright issues over music piracy, has there ever been an industry that dislikes its customers as much as this one?  Despite the lawsuits, it seems the industry is fighting a losing battle with consumers on how they purchase music.  One would think that the labels have the means to copy protect everything.  They probably do, though that is probably a financially risky path to take.  Look at Sony and their ham-fisted attempt to add DRM to CDs.  Don't the labels have any more imagination than that?  Maybe they do.

The labels may be changing, somewhat, with the announcement that the Warner Music Group will be selling music as unprotected MP3s through the Amazon music store.  That leaves Sony BMG as the only holdout.  Universal decided to go this way months ago.  EMI led the way last May with unprotected songs via iTunes and anyone else who cared to sell its music.  The industry is grudgingly changing its business model to meet reality.  Warner was adamant that they would keep DRM when Steve Jobs wrote his famous letter suggesting the labels would make more money without DRM.  Now they've cut that deal although pointedly without the iTunes store in the equation.  That should change as iTunes is a major distribution outlet.  The labels need to get comfortable with the idea that selling music will never be the same as it was in the days of vinyl and albums.  When that happens we'll all be wondering what took them so long, assuming they are still in business.

January 2, 2008 | Permalink


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Maybe a couple of thousand college students who have been hastled by the RIAA have passed the word onto their friends not to buy another CD. I have 100 Email addresses in my outlook express alone, and I sent everyone of my contacts an update and urged them to make up their own mind about buying CD for gifts for the holidays. Itunes OK, CD no-way

Posted by: Sweet Daddy | Jan 5, 2008 3:52:49 PM

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