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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Music becomes a little more free

    It’s time for the music industry to admit that its concept of music ownership just doesn’t work in the world of the Internet, digital media and the ubiquitous PC.

    Today, music is something that lives in intangible digital form, capable of being copied endlessly and sent across the Internet instantly. All attempts to restrict this free flow of music have failed because they have failed to acknowledge music’s new nature.

    If I rip music from my CD onto my computer, that’s permissible. But what if I give that CD to 10 of my friends? What if I share the music I ripped with 10 of my friends? What if I share it on the Internet with 10,000 people? Where do we draw the line between permissible and breach of copyright?

    So far, the industry has settled for denial and its Band-Aid solutions – like Sony’s notorious attempt to sell CDs that installed digital rights management, or DRM, software. The DRM technology was supposed to protect copyright by limiting the number of times a CD could be copied or where a CD could be played. Unfortunately, it also crashed computers and violated federal law. Oops.

    However, there have been recent indications that the industry is finally ready to face up to the essential disconnection between its current attitude and the nature of music in our age – for example, statements this week from Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

    At the request of the industry, music downloaded from the Apple Store comes with its own DRM, called FairPlay, which prevents a downloaded track from being played on more than five computers or, more importantly, on any player other than the iPod.

    In a column, Jobs pressed the music companies to allow the Apple store to abandon FairPlay: “”Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats.””

    This is a pretty daring suggestion for the music industry. Loosen its vise-like grip on copyrighted material?

    Even more radically, though, Jobs admitted that only 3 percent of music on the average iPod is from the Apple store. Conversely, the other 97 percent of music on that iPod is not legally downloaded; it’s ripped from CDs, casually shared among friends or illegally downloaded.

    That 97 percent says that DRM has already failed.

    That 97 percent says that the music we listen to is no longer under the control of those who produced it, whether we got it via an easy illegal download or passed down through a chain of friendly mix CDs.

    Record companies like EMI have largely abandoned copy-protecting their CDs, finding that the protected CDs are bulky, costly and irritating to consumers. And even if record companies found a better DRM system to include in every CD, someone would still find a way to crack it. That the industry would have to resort to such excessive measures should tell them that they’re on the wrong track, anyway.

    What can be done, then? In a crazy world where music zips unhindered all over the ‘Net, where would Gwen Stefani get her hairspray money?

    We could take a clue from Sharon Osbourne. “”Hey, kids can go online and download music; why not go to a show for free, too?”” she wondered on MTV this week.

    That’s right; Ozzfest is going to be free this year. Rather than sell tickets, Sharon hopes to keep the tour afloat through sponsorship and merchandise sold at the festival.

    It’s an interesting idea: Perhaps in that crazy DRM-free world, legally downloaded music would contain sponsorship or ads instead, to be watched before the track could play.

    In that situation, the more the track spread from iPod to Zune to PC, the more the ad would be seen, and the more the sponsor would have to pay the music industry. Sure, the artists wouldn’t have much control over their intellectual property, but let’s admit it: They don’t have much control right now.

    It may seem unlikely that this will ever happen, or even that the industry will embrace Jobs’ idea and abolish DRM. On the other hand, our current system just isn’t working.

    Allowing legally downloaded music to be played without limit is the first step toward acceptance. The next step is adaptation.

    That’s right, big music companies. We’re looking at you.

    Lillie Kilburn is a psychology sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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