http://www.yil.com/columns/column.asp?columnist=ebert&date=020401&page=01 April 2002 By Roger Ebert This year, Universal's music division plans to use a new copy-protection scheme that excludes its discs from being played at all on "Macs, DVD players, and CD-compatible video game consoles." This according to Peter Cohen of MacCentral, who also reports that the plan will block discs from being copied to other CDs or being saved to the hard drives of most PCs in the MP3 format. The first disc to get this treatment is More Fast and Furious: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture, a title that will live in infamy. That the CD itself has been ripped off from other CDs (it is a compilation of tracks having little connection to the movie or one another) is a delightful irony. That Universal has copy-protected it, and blocked out Macs and DVD players altogether, has to be the worst marketing decision in consumer electronics since the original DivX format (which was Circuit City's widely hated, intrusive pay-per-view system). It confuses fans with pirates. My guess is that no musician or band still actively engaged in trying to build an audience will want to come anywhere near it. The determined pirate, of course, will not be affected by the new CDs. She will simply connect her stereo to her computer, then press "record" on her ripping software as she presses "play" on her conventional CD player. This will yield a digital file that can be shared with the world (not to mention her portable MP3 player). Why do people grab music off the Net and download it to CDs, iPods, and other storage devices? Because they like it. They like it a lot. They like it enough to go to the trouble of obtaining it despite the various roadblocks. They are fans. Would they rather have a mint CD from Virgin or Tower, with the original cover art? Of course. Will they eventually be paying customers for the music they are currently sampling? In most cases, yes. Technically they are stealing, but in fact they are an instrumental part of the process by which a lot of real CDs get sold. Back when I was a member of the prime music-buying demographic, I went into Markland's Record Store on Main Street in Urbana, Illinois, and took the latest 45s into a soundproof listening booth where I could sample them. I sampled them a lot. So did all the other kids. Sometimes we would sample the same song every day for a week. The Marklands knew what we were up to. They also knew that we yearned to own those records, and that when we found the 89 cents for a 45 or the $3.98 for an LP we'd be their customers. We were fueling our enthusiasm. MP3 fans using the Web are essentially doing the same thing. They are finding new bands and singers. They are spreading the word. If the music industry ever finds a way to block the copying of music, the bands that are protected will be invisible to this most sincere form of promotion and publicity. Consider, too, that most of those fans are not necessarily short of funds. Hey, they own a PC that can rip and burn. Their time is valuable. When they discover a band they like, they can spend a lot of time downloading it off the Web or a little time buying the CD at discount. Studies suggest that more sales are generated by the music-sharing process than are lost. The late, unlamented DivX scheme represented the same idiotic marketing reasoning that the Universal Music Group has implemented. So did the Hollywood studios' original opposition to home video. We live in a time of buzz, when musical reputations are formed below the radar of the accountants of the music industry. The way to launch a new CD is to get it talked about - not to insult potential fans by making it unplayable on their equipment even after they buy it legitimately. Peter Cohen reports that Universal plans to offer refunds to customers who buy a disc and find they cannot play it. He also observes, "Many retailers employ a no-return policy once the CD's wrapper is off." And wisely so, since it would be the easiest thing in the world to buy a disc, rip it to your computer through your stereo, post it on the Web, and then return the CD for a refund. Did I just say that? - ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY of the mail.
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