Hitting the Notes

Steve Jobs, it seems, would like to have iTunes Music Store sell music that is unencumbered by DRM. Meanwhile, the RIAA thinks you’re getting a sweetheart deal when you buy a CD and has decided that no infraction is too small to trot out the slavering law-dogs.

The whole thing is starting to really bore me. Jobs is absolutely right when he points out that the RIAA companies themselves are the primary suppliers of non-DRM music (although they’ve certainly stooped to some impressive lows to try and change that). Look, I know that sharing digital music anonymously online especially in a coordinated peer-to-peer effort (like Kazaa or Limewire) is a questionable interpretation of Fair Use. Back in the day, there was no other recourse and I can honestly say that at this point any music I may have acquired in that way has either been deleted or, probably more likely, replaced by a legitimate copy. Which is what we were saying all along: “We don’t mind paying for it, but you charge too much, are behind the times and you release too much crap for us to experiment so we’ll do it our own way, thanks.”

Turns out we were right and once someone caught up with the consumers and offered legitimate alternatives many of us supported those efforts and we appreciate most of what has been done to try and make experimentation more palatable. Which doesn’t mean that all my music is strictly legal by the RIAA’s definition. I share some music on non-public networks with close friends because, well, that’s what I’ve always done way back to when my buddies and I would make mix tapes and copies of albums on cassette for each other. Music is a wonderfully dynamic thing that has both individual/personal aspects as well as social/community aspects. Mostly I think the RIAA wants to squelch the social aspects of enjoying recorded music because it isn’t profitable for them. Not that it couldn’t be, if they put some creative energy into it, but they’re too busy fighting a losing war to keep their old models and paradigms in place (and spreading an immeasurable amount of ill-will in the process) to be bothered trying to roll with the punches.

I’m tired of hoping the RIAA will wake up one day and realize that abusing their customers is a brain-dead business model. But at least it sounds like someone with half an ounce of clout gets it, so even while my hope wanes there is always the chance that I could be pleasantly shocked one day.

That’s the great thing about being cynical: When you’re right, you expected it all along. When you’re wrong, it’s like the best gift ever.

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