14 January 2008

Intellectual Property vs. the market

I’ve spent most of the afternoon vetting my iTunes library, which leaves me spurred to comment about a recent post passing through the intertubes in which the RIAA whines again about intellectual property rights.

First off, as a Web guy, I like to think that I’m pretty hip to the upside of intellectual property laws; if my stuff was worth ripping off, I’d probably be pretty steamed if it actually was.


When you’re the RIAA, and you circumscribe what the mass media promote, you’ve just made yourself a gatekeeper of popular culture — part of folks’ common experience. When you heap on the injury of ensuring that your product is partially crap, you encourage your market to cherry pick. You also lose respect — how much over-compressed, lowest-common-denominator-pandering crap do you expect us to take in tandem with the stuff we genuinely like?

Finally, you add insult to injury by treating us like thieves when we assert our rights to protect the embodiment of our licenses from theft and damage.

It’s true that lots of people have lost respect for intellectual property. Meanwhile, it’s been my experience that people pirate music (ooh, scary!) because:

  • their desire to listen to the music outweighs their ability to pay for it;
  • they want to try it before they buy it;
  • they want to encourage others to listen to it;
  • they can download the music more easily than they can rip it from media they already own; and/or
  • they want the gold without the dross.

I’m serious as a heart attack about the last one — seriously, why else would I be vetting a music library composed in great majority of tracks from CD’s I’ve purchased, in many cases more than once?

Respectively, these listeners are:

  • not giving you the money, because they don’t have it;
  • exercising the rights of a conscientious customer;
  • DOING YOUR MARKETING FOR YOU (oh, fercryinoutloud, are you ever STOOPID);
  • taking the path of least resistance to the goal of protecting their investment in their legitimate license of your music; and
  • hinting that y’all oughtta get your shit together.

So, you wanna raise your numbers and regain relevance? Here’s how to do it:

  • Quit insisting on stratospheric margins.
  • Make DRM-free downloads available sooner rather than later.
  • Make free tracks available. Ratchet the bitrates down and bracket them with ads and notices if you feel you must, but make the music available for trial in some format.
  • Quit treating your customers like criminals.
  • For the love of all that is good, stop marketing CD’s that are half-or-more composed of crap tracks, and compressing the whole so extremely that it makes the results physically exhausting to listen to.

When I look at the situation from a perspective of opportunity cost, I come away knowing that I'd rather buy a good CD than download any day. Why?

  • I can’t use P2P networks effectively without leeching and allowing myself to be leeched.
  • I have no way of knowing until the download is finished if I’m getting tracks that were ripped from media in good condition.
  • I may not be able to find the music at an acceptably high bitrate, or for that matter at any bitrate.
  • Chances are that I’ll be forced to rename or re-tag my files, so hell, I might as well rip them my own damn self.
  • Oh. Liner notes?! Buahahaha!!!

On the other hand, it’s altogether satisfying to take the best while throwing the rest away, and giving the mass media a well-deserved virtual middle finger in the process.

Get the memo and the clue already, hmmm???

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