Funny and Weird, Music, Technology

Thoughts about digital media

The following article was found on Engadget and made me think alot… think it will make you too so here it is…

What did I just buy?



In the beginning it was simple; to repurpose another phrase, the music was the media and the media was the music. Consumers visited their local record stores and, in one fell swoop, bought both the record and the music that was on it. Try as you might, you couldn’t separate the two. Music and media were the artistic equivalent of conjoined twins.

As teenagers and adults alike gathered around that spinning vinyl, no one bothered to ask the question “What did I just buy?” To ask the question would have been nonsensical. The answer was simply “I bought a record.”

However, the times they are a changing. Doctors long ago began separating conjoined twins and no longer is the content married to its delivery mechanism.

The various recording industries would have you believe that this has all but caused the death of them. At the end of the last century they eagerly pointed towards the likes of Napster and, a half-decade later, they’re now angry at BitTorrent. “We’re being robbed blind,” they scream. “They’re not paying for the content anymore.”

The irony is, of course, that they’re using this to their advantage as well. Consider for a moment that I now own the Beatles’ White Album in three different forms. Top Gun sits in my collection as a VCR tape, a Laserdisc, a DVD, and, I’m sure, will sit as a Blu-ray or HD-DVD disc someday.

This prompts the question ”What did I buy?” Is it possible that, in their ultimate greed to ring up multiple sales from the same content, content owners ultimately hurt their claims to any single one of them. Consumers are so eager to have the content in a form that best fits their lifestyle they began making copies on their own terms.

Consider for a moment a world in which content owners sell you just that, content. For example a consumer visits a website and buys “The Princess Bride.” They don’t buy the DVD. They don’t buy the VHS tape. They buy the content. From that point on you’d be able to purchase each of the different media forms at negligible costs. If such an option had been available from the beginning, it’s possible that “Fair Use” might not have been morphed from its original reporting and educational roots into the “Fair Use” one thinks of today.

A few years back my business partner and I contemplated a new venture. In its purest form the idea was simple: trade your used CDs online. Alas, nothing in this world is that simple and it was the details of this plan that would have surely landed us smack dab in the crosshairs of the RIAA.

You see — unlike most trading sites where physical goods are swapped, our site would have, for all intents and purposes, converted physical goods to digital goods. We then would have essentially traded the digital goods. Oh sure, there were steps in between to help protect us from the dreaded “Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200” card, but the end result was still the same. 

The idea was that consumers would ship their used CDs to us and we would give them credits towards other CDs in our collection. When customers would redeem these credits we would shift “ownership” of the requested CD to them while continuing to store the actual CD in our warehouses. You might be thinking “What good is it to own a CD that sits in a warehouse?” Well, instead of shipping “your” CD to you we would instead rip the CD and allow you to download “your” MP3s.
Yes – we fully expected consumers to download their MP3s and nearly immediately trade the CD back to us for more credits. In fact, the business plan was predicated on an unnatural amount of trade.

Each step in the chain was legal. Consumers are allowed to sell used CDs to other consumers. Likewise, consumers are allowed to rip CDs. Since each CD in the warehouse would be either a) specifically tied to a person or b) available for acquisition, the company would simply be offering a trade-facilitation/storing/ripping service. Yes, yes… it’s questionable, but the concept was interesting enough to do a little research.

If we disregard the obvious abuse, the underlying concepts are still the same. Would users who own and have verifiable proof of ownership be able to download “derivative” works? Would such a business be able to offer its customers free ringtones of all their music? What exactly does it mean to own a piece of content?

Perhaps it’s time to face the music and admit that we never did have ownership of said music. That shiny piece of vinyl was just an illusion of control. The more and more we drift into the digital age, perhaps the more that we’ll learn that “ownership” is just a tangible way of having a license.

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