Saturday, August 13, 2005


There's rumblings of a new shift in policy coming from the RIAA: it looks like they're now going to turn their attention to CD burning:

"Burned" CDs accounted for 29 percent of all recorded music obtained by fans in 2004, compared to 16 percent attributed to downloads from online file-sharing networks, said Mitch Bainwol, chief executive for the Recording Industry Association of America.

Yes, having tried - and failed - to stem the sharing of unpaid files online, they're now going to go after something else that doesn't harm their industry at all: the mix tape. Making the same wrong-headed leap they made with peer to peer sharing - that a music track someone hasn't paid directly for must always mean one lost sale, the RIAA has decided that people sharing their musical finds, making mixtapes for their girlfriends and boyfriends, and burning CD compilations of music they've already paid for to take on car journeys must be stopped:

"CD burning is a problem that is really undermining sales," Bainwol said in an interview prior to speaking before about 750 members of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers in San Diego Friday.

Copy protection technology "is an answer to the problem that clearly the marketplace is going to see more of," he added.

We're still not sure how he thinks that's going to work. I buy records in order to fillet off the decent tracks onto compilations for when we go on trips. If the record industry want me to pay for CDs that I can't use in the way i want, they'll succeed in persuading me to change my habits. I'll just stop buying records altogether. Once a CD starts to tell me in small writing that it may or may not play through my Mac, it goes back on the shelf - I'm not going to shell out ten quid for something that might, if I'm lucky, be playable but otherwise unusable, or may lock my computer up completely. It's like buying a book which may or may not have half the pages missing.

The focus on CD burning Friday was welcomed by Alayna Hill-Alderman, who said she has seen music CD sales slide in recent years while sales of blank recordable CDs have soared.

"We are feeling the decline in our store sales, especially with regard to R&B and the hip-hop world," said Hill-Alderman, co-owner of Record Archive, a two-store company operating in Rochester, N.Y. "It's all due to burning. We've lost tremendous amounts of those sales to flea markets and bodegas."

Hang about, Alayna... it's all down to burning? But surely that's not the case - after all, album sales might be down 7% year-on-year in the US, but total sales are up 21%; wouldn't much if not most of the sales downturn of physical CDs be down to people buying music online? And while you may be losing physical sales to the flea markets and bodegas, isn't it equally possible that your customers are relocating to Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy where the CDs are cheaper and can be picked up with your shopping and shoes and garden furniture? And what about the illegal downloading that was exercising the RIAA? Has that, magically, not had any effect on your business at all?

Simon Wright, chief executive of Virgin Entertainment Group International, which oversees the Virgin chain of music stores, said he's in favor of labels releasing more albums in a copy-protected CD format, regardless of the potential for consumer backlash.

"If, particularly, the technology allows two-to-three burns, that's well within acceptable limits and I don't think why consumers should have any complaints," Wright said.

You don't, Simon? Well, how about this: I've paid for my CD, and I want to decide what to do with it, on the same basis that I've been allowed to for the last thirty years when I've been buying music and supporting your industry. If, all of a sudden, there are to be limits placed on what I can do with the CD, then I'd expect to see a substantial reduction in the price, in the same way that a disposable plate costs a lot less than a plate i can use many times. And when you say "acceptable" - to whom? I have songs which I put on every bloody compilation I make (I'm told the technical term for this is 'anal') - why is this unacceptable to you?

The big question is: does all this signal that the RIAA have accepted they've lost the filesharing battle, and are trying to move on to safer ground?


ian said...

"Home taping is killing music" I'm sorry. Have I woken up in the 1980s again?

Anonymous said...

I do love that, after, what, almost ten years now, they still don't grasp essential concepts of technology. Given that data discs will have to remain unprotected because otherwise the much bigger software industry will throw a fit (yes, Mr. SysAdmin, you can only make three copies of your backup CD, even if it's just data), each of those burnt copies will be a perfect digital copy, and lo! free of the protection!

Idiots (and if they try and incorporate tracking in CD burning software, well, the most popular burning library is GPLed, and I don't think that the Free Software world would stand for that).

Ian Snappish

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