Back more than a few years ago, in the dark ages before digital technology, a roommate of mine used to buy a record album and play it only once. In playing it, he would record the pristine vinyl onto a brand-new cassette tape, thereby saving any wear and tear on the record and prolonging its life. The record went onto his shelf and the cassette went with him.
Todays version goes like this: I buy a CD. The first thing I do is pop it in my computer and extract the songs into MP3 files. I store them on my hard drive, catalog them with some software and then take them with me in my portable MP3 player.
This is what is called, in legal parlance, “fair use.” For years, consumers have practiced it and enjoyed its benefits, making tapes of music or TV shows for later use. The concept became a dirty word to recording companies in the past few years. And indeed, many Napster abusers perverted the concept into a rationale for distributing music without a license.
But now, in this post-Napster interlude we find ourselves in, it seems fair use—at least when it comes to music—is either going to be severely challenged or disappear altogether. Because in their greed and ignorance, the record companies are flirting with new ways to not only stop users from sharing music over the Internet but stop them from enjoying it on their own—at least on their own terms anyway.
While the final step has yet to be taken, record companies are trying to use technology against consumers, rather than for them—precisely the opposite reaction wed expect post-Napster. But whether its producing CDs that dont record into MP3s properly, with blips or skips, or that can be accessed only by software of their choice (say, perhaps, Microsoft Media Player?), the record producers are giving consumers a slap across the face.
The record industry forgot that the customer is always right. I dont participate in online swapping anymore, but Im starting to rethink that position. It seems that as long as big business is going to treat its customers like felons, those customers might as well try to get away with whatever they can.