MP3 Music Legalities

News reports recently show that legal music downloading services are about to pass illegal file sharing services in numbers of downloads soon. I’d argue that they already have, because no one ever takes into account people that use file sharing services to get MP3 versions of music they already own. For instance, if you have music on LP or cassette and find it easier to download an MP3 version of the song rather than go through the process of hooking up your turntable to a computer and copying the song to your hard drive. Is that illegal? I’ve never heard anyone comment on that either way. Does owning an LP, cassette or CD give you a license to put that music on your MP3 player, even if the MP3 didn’t come directly from the media you possess?
Either way, I think that legal MP3 downloads would far outpace illegal ones if the record companies weren’t trying to screw us with price. They charge almost the same amount for an MP3 download as they do to purchase the CD in a store. But they are saving on the manufacturing and distribution costs. After Apple gets the file from the record company, the costs for the record company don’t really change whether they sell 1 or 1 million copies. So why charge so much? I think the price point for music today is all wrong. If songs were 25 cents, rather than 99, I think we would purchase a lot more music and a lot more often. Enough to make up the price difference and then some. Or, at least it would give us a reason to buy MP3s, instead of CDs. With there being little price difference, I would rather order the CD and get the artwork, plus a nice physical object to add to my collection. I think in the last 2 years I have bought dozens of CDs, but have only purchased 2 or 3 albums from iTunes.
Then, if you go ahead and add digital rights management (DRM) into the picture, the 99 cent price tag is ridiculous. Apple’s DRM isn’t so bad, as you can make audio CDs and keep the music forever, but other companies are offering some really stupid DRM. I’ve never bought a song protected by Windows DRM, but I have gotten a few for free as bonuses for buying a CD or some such. I can’t play those on my Macs, nor can I burn them to an audio CD on my Mac. So I can only listen to them on my PC, which is not my main machine and is only at work. Wow, thanks. That’s great.
But at least it will stop pirates, right? It will, unless they don’t buy the music online and just walk down to the local record store and buy it on CD. Then they can pirate it all they want. So people that want to purchase music online get a substandard product, while pirates and those that steal music aren’t inconvenienced in the least. No one can accuse the music industry of being smart.

Posted on July 6, 2005 at 8:49 am by Gary Rosenzweig · Permalink
In: General