MP3s, DVDs, Entertainment Industry and Me

Analogue copying makes the record business sleep easy

Today the record and movie industry is acting like illegal copying of music and movies is something new. Well, it's not. It really isn't. It's just easier.
You see, when I was a kid I occasionally copied friends music onto a cassette. I didn't do it often, and the quality was bad, but it worked once in a while. A friend of mine was into movies, big time, so he kept a really big network of other collectors close, they copied movies from VHS to VHS, but because the quality degradation was so bad they had to keep track of how many copies the current copy was from the original.
I borrowed a movie or two from him and some of them were nothing more than static. But he liked this hobby - he sent VHS cassettes around the country and got sent movies back. Now this is bad copying, even if it was such hard work which meant that only "freaks" kept doing it. "Normal" (hahah!) people like myself never bothered. We occasionally rented a movie - sometimes we even managed to copy it, but that was more of an exception than a rule.

When it comes to music, I usually bought the record (LP that is) and I played it once and then copied it to a cassette which I didn't have to care about that much as my nice pristine record was still in the mint condition. Cool.

Because of this analogue and physical copying it was quite a chore to make widespread "sharing" of music and movies - and on top of that, you never got the sleeves with lyrics etc if you copied.

The record and movie business kind of counted on this, and in many countries you, as the final consumer, had to for out a copying-fee to the recording artists and other copyright holders. This was manifested through an extra "tax" slapped onto the price of blank media (which I today find hugely wrong). (Question for you to ponder, does this copy-fee make it "more right" to copy these materials, after all, we are paying a fee for it, aren't we?!)

Digital copying makes the entertainment industry shake

Then things gradually changed. The advent of CDs meant that the music was actually stored in a digital format. What the record industry didn't count on was that technology would progress, and the "closed" CD format would soon spread to computers (as CD-ROM), and from there on it's all been downhill. When the CD-ROM format hit the computers it didn't only mean that you could store data on a disc, but also that your computer could play music from the disc. And while computers back then were "really slow", and you couldn't do much with the audio on the disk it was still there. And to everyone's surprise (-sarcasm-) computers got faster and disks got bigger, and suddenly you could take the music off the CD, you could store it on your disk... and you could compress the music to a more manageable format. And your computer had the crunching power to play the music back. Suddenly you didn't need the physical CD present to listen to your music. But there needs to be more for the "horrible copying" to take place. You need a way to share the music. Onto the stage steps, writeable CDs and the Internet and mainly Broadband.

Suddenly you could use your normal computer to make a copy of the music that didn't degrade no matter how many copies you made, and you could fit "tons" of songs onto a normal CD-R, and a CD is tiny, so you can easily take to a friend, or send it off in the mail. Easy... And it became even easier with all the Broadband connections too - Now you don't even have to burn a CD, just send it to your friends, via email, FTP, dump it on a webserver, etc. How neat is that!?

But wait - the music and film industry didn't count on this - suddenly there was a runaway train which was speeding into freedom!

Why is the industry screwed?

You'd think that the entertainment industry would have seen this coming, or at least be a bit prepared for it. One would assume that in the whole record industry would have employed at least a few smart people.


In the previous world where copying was analogue and transfer by physical media one purchased the product and one could do whatever one wanted with it - within reasonable copyright laws. You could make copies of it, you could sell it to your friend when you got bored, etc.
Now in the new world, you can still buy the CD, but it's probably riddled with copy protection stuff. Worst example so far is the Sony Rootkit. The worst thing is that when you play the music on your computer you're pestered by a licence agreement. Seriously.

What the music industry hasn't realised is that in the previous world, they sold a product to the consumer. In the new world, we're not so bothered about the actual product, but we want the music, mainly because you can't fit the CD sleeve into your iPod. And this is the largest thing that the record industry hasn't grasped.

Another thing that they've not figured out is that as a consumer I don't mind paying for my entertainment, but I do mind paying for the same entertainment several times. I've got LPs at home, and I have the same music as a CD, which back "in the old days" might have been a "smart purchase", but I am never going to pay full price for the thrid time for the same muisck. I might have strange logic, but I'm not stupid.

The Paradigm Shift

What consumers today want is to be able to enjoy their entertainment wherever and whenever the consumer wants. Todays technology allows you to do this. Today you can buy a CD in the shop, you can stick it in your computer and a few minutes later you'll have crips clean digital music on your hard disk. You can then transfer this music to an array of devices.

  • Your portable MP3 player would be the first one to get the new music
  • Your mobile phone - most of the modern phones can play MP3s et al.
  • Your home entertainment server - which would allow you to stream your music to your (stationary) MP3 player that you've got hooked up to your stereo
  • A USB memory stick - it's small enough to keep your favourite tracks with you so that you can enjoy your own music where you want.

But there's also other ways you can enjoy your music
Most car stereos today can play MP3 files - this means that you don't have to keep your valuable CDs in the car (where toerags steal them) but not only that, you can cram a whole CD full of your favourite "driving-tracks". Neat!
Another thing that I like to do with my music is that I use the free software SlimServer that allows me to stream my music to any computer on the Internet. This is most handy at work where I can listen to music and drown out the office noise. It's also very handy when I'm somewhere visiting and I want to play my own music. I like this part a lot as it means I don't have to copy the music back and forth.

What consumers don't want is a physical product that needs to be lugged around with you.

Pretty please, Entertainment Industry, try to get this into your skulls, please. You can still make money and you'll stop everybody being "criminals".

And while I'm at it

Can I please have my LPs in a digital format. Please. I've got tons of cool music at home, but I'm not going to buy them as CDs or even as MP3s at full price.
What the industry could do is have complimentary service where I can get my analogue entertainment amended with a digial one. Basically I want to take my records to a shop, and show them to the assistant, where he sticks a sticker on them or something that marks that I've had my complimentary digital media and I pay a nominal fee for it. The result is high-quality MP3s (or some other formats) on a CD-R. Same could apply to VHS cassettes that I've bought.

You know it makes sense!

  • I've already paid for the entertainment - I'm not going to pay again, but I might pay a small fee to avoid the hassle of illegally downloading the music.
  • For you the small fee is still better than no fee.
  • You wouldn't have to pay your legal monkies to chase normal honest people who just want to listen to muisc - this must be a huge saving!

Goooo ooooon!!

What I want

I'm a person who very seldomly buys music, the reason for that is quite clear.

  • The CDs are too expensive. Seriously. You actually don't get that much that it would be worth paying the asked price for it. I'd much rather go see the actual band play live.
  • Todays music is really bad. No sorry, it really is. For example, I hate whinging Oasis. I can't stand it. Not to mention "music" like R&B, rap etc. Music should be played by real people on real instruments.
  • I'm out of touch with music. There's no radio that I a) can listen to b) want to listen to. In the office we don't play music, and most stations play bad music anyway. If there's any new music out, I wouldn't know.

When I come to buy music, it's music that I've already heard, and like that much that I want to support the artist (not the record label), I also like having the CD and sleeve. This means that there's this bland music that I like, but not enough to actually want to buy the music as a CD. For example, I have most AC/DC albums, because they're classics and anyone who likes proper music should have the complete AC/DC collection - this is where rock n' roll starts. But there are bands whose music I like, but not enough to warrant buying all their records, one such is Beatles, another one is Rolling Stones, etc. I'd really like to have those bands records. But I'm not a fan, so I'm not going to buy the CDs.

What I would do on the other hand is download the music as MP3s (or OGG or FLAC), for a low price. Say, £3 per album. However I don't want any crap copy protection (DRM - Digital Rights Management) sheit. No, seriously! I'm a consumer who doesn't mind paying a fair price, what I do mind is being treated like a pirate.
I don't want to tie my purchases to a certain device, operating system, time period or any such thing.
When I buy an item, I want to know that it's mine and I can do what I want with it, and I want the supplier to treat me as a decent human.

I would also like to be part of a music network where I can get music news - not from the record labels, but from other music lovers. I'm sure this exists, but not in combination with the "free spirited music" I want above.

And what's with the propaganda?

There's another thing that really bugs me about the paid entertainment I have. Lemme explain.

I'm a Simpsons fan and I really enjoy watching Our Favourite Family, so much in fact that I've got all released season box-sets. I've paid for these, yes, hard earned cash. I could have been a cheap skate and recorded them from TV and burnt them to VCDs or something. In fact if I would have done that I would have had more episodes. However, I like the DVDs, for some strange reason.

But what really really really annoys me is that these DVDs are infested with these anti piracy propaganda (you know the one that goes "You wouldn't steal a car... you wouldn't steal a handbag..." etc).

Now listen to me you numpties - first - I paid for the DVDs, they're obviously not pirated. You're targeting the wrong audience. You don't see anti-McDonalds propaganda at the aerobics class either?!
Second - it's too long - I've seen it already. I don't want to waste my time watching that crap whenever I change the DVD in my player. Once might be OK, but to see the propaganda everytime I insert the disk and after every episode (unless I do a "play all") is too much. And - third - If I would be a pirate (aarrrh!) don't you think that I would be smart enough to edit that propaganda out of the pirated material?! Seriously?! Do you think I'd clog up the bandwith and disks with your "don't do piracy"-junk when I've just "done piracy".
Incredibly stupid! Cut it out! No, just stop!

Where does this leave us?

I'll tell you where. It leaves us in a world, where you, as a consumer, can't enjoy your digital media with freedom. On one hand you have "copyright owners" who are living in the dark ages and they're trying to protect their rights by, basically, calling everyone a criminal. On the other hand we have lovely technology companies who want to provide us with awesome products and systems that allow you to enjoy movies and music at any convenience you can think of.

Some of the technology companies offer products that aren't crippled at all, it allows the consumer to do what they want with their products - this is good - but so far quite pointless. Mainly because it's virtually impossible to get media onto your device and keep it all 100% legal.

If you can get media onto your device you're usually bullied into a very restrictive contract of some sort.

This leaves me, as the consumer, in a place where I have to fear for my computers sanity, I have to constantly look over my shoulder hoping that I don't do anything illegal. It leaves me with several bad choices of online shops that all fail in some way. It leaves me, as a consumer, feeling like the companies that supply the entertainment don't trust me - why would I actually bother buying these products when I could just download them from somewhere...

The solution is extremely simple; The Entertainment Industry needs to relax and provide the consumer with proper services (not just DVDs and CDs). This to a price that allows the consumer to consume. No fantasy prices, please. The consumer should install some self-respect and stop sharing copyrighted material left, right and center.

I recently looked at an online music store, in the hope that I could by non-crippled music, to a good price. I failed. I was half-way through the registration when I noticed that the service was subscription based per month. I also noticed that the catalogue of music they had was mainly unknown artists, so there would have been no point in actually joining anyway.

What a sad place to be.. and I actually am trying to find a reason to get an iPod Nano, which, by the way, is an Apple product, which I by default loathe. That says quite a lot, doesn't it.