Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Free" Music

Recently I received an email advertising 10 free songs if you spend $100 or more at this particular website. I also got $5 from Amazon not too long ago that I can use to "buy" any MP3s I'd like. Am I the only one who thinks these are completely worthless?

It's not because I believe music should be free (somebody put a lot of effort into making music), and it's not merely because it costs no money whatsoever to make an additional MP3 file, though at least with a CD you get something tangible. With an MP3 file you get nothing more than a "license" that allows you listen to a song; you don't own the file itself. With a CD you get to own a physical disc, a booklet with artwork, and importantly, several legal rights that you don't get with MP3s, like the right to lend your CD to a friend or the right to sell your CD to somebody (both covered under the first-sale doctrine). Both of these actions are expressly prohibited by sites that sell MP3s because "all Products are sublicensed to you and not sold," meaning that the first-sale doctrine does not apply to your MP3 file. In fact, the way this agreement is worded is such that you may only "play ... Products as much as reasonably necessary (emphasis added) for personal, non-commercial use," so technically you don't have even have the right to play your music as much as you want!

There's a reason why MP3s usually cost less than CDs. It's not just because it costs less to make an MP3 file (i.e., nothing) than to press a CD, and it's not just because it costs less to distribute an electronic MP3 file than it is to distribute a physical CD. It's because you're getting something that's inherently less valuable.

But don't tell that to the iTunes crowd happy to pay $11.99 for the license to listen to a collection of "Products" that gives them fewer rights than the identical CD album that they can own for $10.99.

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