I was the music industry's dream consumer.
As a 40-year-old
male with a long-standing passion for "all things music," I've
spent a bundle on my collection. In college most of my waking
hours were spent wandering around record stores, swap meets and
record conventions, much to the dismay of the women I was ostensibly
dating. Then again, the fact that I also worked as a DJ at the
radio station and hung out with obsessive record collector types
probably didn't help matters in the romance department.
in grad school in the 1990s, I became busy replacing many of my
vinyl releases with CDs. At the same time, entrepreneurial music
industry types began to exploit the market for out-of-print recordings
by reissuing long out-of-print records on CD formats, which of
course I instantly snapped up.
So here I
sit circa 2007 with a house filled with over 1,000 vinyl records
and around 800 CDs. If you figure about US$12 per recording as
an accurate average, that's somewhere around US$20,000. Not a
bad chunk of change for the music business, I say.
while I was busy importing my CDs into iTunes so I could listen
to them on my iPod (a most tedious task), I hopped on the internet.
iTunes was busy importing a Luna CD, one of my favorite bands,
so I decided to see what they were up to since they disbanded
a few years back. After a few clicks in Google, I found a blog
site describing a posthumous, internet-only release of a collection
of covers the band had recorded throughout their career. While
I already had many of the songs (they were often featured on b-sides
and imported singles, etc.), I couldn't resist tracking down this
compilation. As I read further on the blog site I encountered
a link to a .zip file containing the entire collection ripped
as 128kbps mp3's.
don't understand," I said,
"These files were not copied or pirated,
I actually purchased them."
"Well" she responded, "You didn't
actually purchase the files, you really
purchased a license to listen to the music,
and the license is very specific about
how they can be played or listened to."
While I must
admit being tempted to simply click away and download the collection,
I though to myself, "Well, if I buy the music it's only US$10,
and this way I will get high quality .WAV files. Besides, it's
not like Luna were getting rich off of their careers, they could
use the money..."
So I headed
to Rhino's online store, purchased the music, and downloaded the
later that evening, I tried to move the .WMA files into iTunes,
when I received an error message telling me that iTunes could
not import them because they were copy protected. I downloaded
the files again (which took another 12 minutes) and again, the
So I called
Rhino customer support and after an eight-minute wait spoke with
a representative. She informed me that the files were indeed copy
protected so that I could only play them on specific music players,
most notably not iTunes.
understand," I said, "These files were not copied or pirated,
I actually purchased them."
responded, "You didn't actually purchase the files, you really
purchased a license to listen to the music, and the license is
very specific about how they can be played or listened to."
Now I was
baffled. "Records never came with any such restrictions," I said.
"Well they were supposed to, but we weren't able to enforce those
licenses back then, and now we can."
went on to explain that I could burn the songs to a CD and listen
to them in a regular CD player, but I would need an additional
Windows based music player to listen to them on my computer. But
either way, she suggested there was no way the files could be
played on my iPod.
I was baffled. "Records never came
with any such restrictions," I said.
replied, "Well they were supposed to,
but we weren't able to enforce those
licenses back then, and now we can."
I hung up and began my search for a Windows application to allow
me to burn the music to a CD. After downloading Nero and firing
it up, imagine my frustration when I receive another error message
telling me it cannot locate the licenses for the music I purchased.
I call Rhino
again, and this time speak to a young male CSR. He explains that
I need updated licenses in order to burn the music and often the
problem is that many firewalls will allow the music to pass through
the firewall, but not the licenses because of their encryption
schemes. Lest you think I am exaggerating, I included below the
following text from their website (apparently this is a big enough
problem that it warrants mentioning in their FAQ):
disable all firewall and pop-up blocker software you may be running
on your computer.
the download again
If the Licensing
portion of the download is still hanging, please update the Digital
Rights Management (DRM) component on your computer via the following
CSR representative then suggests that I try once more to download
the files and licenses and if I still have no luck to try accessing
the internet from other providers such as a local coffee shop,
library, or work computer.
just keep downloading the music until you find a gateway that
let's your licenses through without problems."
While I would
like to say I responded with something witty, I must admit to
being completely flummoxed. There I sat, a loyal music fan who
has shelled out actual money to a business that is supposed to
be having financial problems, and the best they can do is tell
me to wander the streets of Seattle looking for different internet
providers who might allow me to download the music that I have
already paid for, music that I have spent the better part of three
house trying to listen to, and which is still unusable?
How on earth
have things come to this?!?!?!
if this is the best you can do, your business is in really, really
would like to think that someone
at a place like Rhino would care enough
to not let these kinds of things happen.
But alas, my suspicion is that
anyone who would have been
cool enough to work at Rhino
in their heyday some twenty years ago
would never be so callous,
foolish or shallow to allow these
kind of absurdities to occur.
I mean, could
you imagine the consumer response if Coke could only be consumed
from specific Coke-approved equipment, and then only in the specific
ways that the folks at Coke wanted the product to be consumed.
"drinking Coke with fast food is no problem, but we must warn
you that your license forbids the mixing of Coke with any alcoholic
In the end,
I never was able to get the music to play on anything - my computer,
on a CD or on my iPod. I invested US$10, several hours of my time,
and my reward was, well, nothing.
to say I was outraged, but in the end I must admit to feeling
remarkably sad and deflated over the whole process. See, the thing
is, I was raised on music. I was saved by music. I (used to) live
for music. Lester Bangs wasn't my idol, he was my soul mate (in
a matter of speaking).
a not-inconsequential chunk of my life to collecting music; to
tracking down obscure records, cassettes, 8-Tracks and CDs of
all genres and styles. And now apparently that is all but over.
Music has somehow evolved from tangible things into amorphous
collections of 1's and 0's guarded over by interested parties
as if they were gold bullion. How so very sad.
I would like
to think that someone at a place like Rhino would care enough
to not let these kinds of things happen. But alas, my suspicion
is that anyone who would have been cool enough to work at Rhino
in their heyday some twenty years ago would never be so callous,
foolish or shallow to allow these kind of absurdities to occur.
resigned myself not to waste any more time with the music business,
I suppose I'll have to resort to purchasing used CDs & records,
or having my friends occasionally make me a copy of one of their
Call it piracy.
Call it whatever you want. But at least I tried. I gave you several
chances and you failed miserably at every level.
The above article was posted at http://consumerist.com
and circulated by Rock & Rap Confidential. Rock & Rap
Confidential, one of the few newsletters both editors of CounterPunch
read from front to back the moment it arrives, is edited by Lee
Ballinger and Dave Marsh and now it's available to you for FREE
simply by sending an email to: email@example.com.
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