Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Legalize It
I used to use Napster.

Sometimes I would get some bizarre song in my head that I would never consider buying a whole CD for. Napster would make it easy to get the song and enjoy it for the day. Maybe two. After that I would lose interest and probably never play it again.

But although Napster was easy to use, it was never all that convenient. Downloads were extremely unreliable or just mind-numbingly slow. The quality was hit and miss. Very often what you thought you were getting ended up being something entirely different. It is this weakness that has recently been exploited by artists like Madonna, who flooded P2P networks with bogus MP3s masquerading as songs from her new album. (You can listen to a cutup of the Madonna's message here.)

The music industry sees all of this "sharing" as a big problem. The RIAA has been relentlessly pursuing a solution that is favorable to the industry. Companies like Pressplay have pursued legal alternatives but subscription fees and restrictive DRM measures make them unattractive to many. It's hard to compete with free, unlimited and unrestricted.

Yesterday, Apple stepped up with their own solution, and at first blush it may be a suitable compromise. With affordable a la carte downloads (songs are 99 cents) you don't have to worry about paying for a subscription you will not use. you don't have to worry about buying an entire album you don't want. It's easy to search for, purchase and download songs since Apple has licensed One-Click shopping from Amazon. There is some DRM attached but Apple has maintained respect for customers' rights by allowing songs to appear on unlimited iPods, stream wirelessly to other computers on your network, be transfered to 3 other machines and be burned to an unlimited number of CDs*.

*OK, they do require that you modify the playlist you're working from after every 10 burns, but that seems like a minor restriction to me. I've never burned any of my playlists more than 10 times.

It's not perfect. But no solution, legal or illegal, has been thus far. I still can't get songs from small indie lables, which is where my tastes are concentrated. But when the mood strikes, as it did a few months ago when I had Pink's "Family Portrait" stuck in my head, I can simply download the song. Only this time it's legal.

That will make Pink and her label happy. A reliable and affordable transaction makes me happy.

Everything's coming up roses.


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