Ideas and Music

02008-07-05 | Computer, Copyright, Internet, Music, Musings | 7 comments

Some Saturday morning thoughts from an early walk to coffee (((It’s A Grind on Cedar Street)))…

The other day I quoted George Bernard Shaw and compared his apples to CDs and his ideas to mp3 files. You might think, if sharing ideas is good, how could sharing music be bad.

Idea ≠ Idea. It occurred to me that there are many types of ideas. Take John Doe, for example. As an employee of software corporation XYZ (or a hardware manufacturer or even a bakery with a great recipe, handed down for generations…) his daytime work-related ideas belong to XYC and are proprietary. They belong to XYZ and will be used, sold or traded at XYZ management’s discretion. At night John Doe works on Linux software, ideas that he happily shares with all. Of course John also has private ideas, that neither belong to his employer, nor would he want to give them away. So, in this example we have three types of ideas: proprietary, freely shared and private. Of those three types of ideas John Doe only has control over two, because the third belongs to his employer.

Now we can apply this to music files:
1. Proprietary files – music that is to be licensed, sold or rented
2. Shared files – music that can be freely copied and shared
3. Private files – maybe encrypted or otherwise hidden from the world

What would happen to XYC, or many other businesses founded on proprietary ideas and information, if they were unable to control their ideas? One either offers a better product or a cheaper product – and both of those choices may depend on having better ideas or information than one’s competitor.

It seems to me that while a ISP music-tax (see this and this) could work, no real attempt at creating a sensible digital rights management system has been made, a DRM that allows the content owner to decide whether the music is proprietary (i.e. licensing, sale or rent), shared or private. What we don’t want is to have the music we purchase be tethered to a specific device. A music file should play on all of our devices, whether phone or computer and across different brands. If a file was locked to a person instead of a device, then the file could play on any device that person owns. One might even create DRM that allows a person to sign out of ownership and assign the music to another person – to lend someone the music, to give it away, to sell or trade music.

Some people have also suggested creating a type of music file that can be moved around freely, but cannot be copied, or maybe one that can only be copied at a loss of quality. Maybe a development of Fraunhofer’s HD-AAC format? Just like the old days when one would borrow a CD from a friend to record it on cassette…

I think too many companies are indirectly profiting from content sharing: the computer manufacturers (rip, mix and burn!), the file-share servers (e.g. rapishare) who get people to look at their advertising, the social web sites that are practically founded on free content (either given freely by musicians hoping to find a market, or shared between members of the web site)… in other words, much of the appeal (((and the profit!))) of the internet has come from freely given and stolen content. I mean, how many web sites have you seen where somebody takes (((steals))) copyrighted images from photographers or other artists and then shows their “selection” with lots of Google ads in the side-bar…

In other words, a reasonable and worthwhile DRM will not likely be created by any of the companies that are making money off of the current arrangement. Apple will not create a new type of DRM file that people can play on a Zune for example. What I absolutely cannot understand is why the record companies or the RIAA have not hired a lot of bright minds to come up with a new standard that works for everyone. In my humble opinion that would be a lot more productive than what they are doing…

In any case, we all know that there are many different types of ideas, some should be shouted from the rooftops, others need to be whispered in a dark room.


  1. curt

    This is brilliant. I would volunteer to work for the RIAA if they would open their “eye(s)” to this new age of music!!

  2. steve1

    I think the primary problem is that as soon as music (or video) is made digital, irrespective of the actual formatting of the information, it becomes easy to make identical copies.

    Just as examples, both CSS and AACS have already been hacked and in the case of CSS, after VERY a short period of time after hitting the street, AACS tries to up the ante, but despite some pretty industrial grade crypto, makes no provision for dealing with techniques like memory snooping, which basically gives the hacker the keys to the kingdom (not quite that simple, but close)

    So, it turns into a type of technical arms race, and the bright minds on the payroll for the industry end up being pitted against the bright minds of the hacking community, most of whom simply view these type of contests as challenges to their skill, not really one of revenue streams, or free data or anything necessarily ideological. It’s a technical challenge.

    “Copyright law is totally out of date. It is a Gutenburg artifact. Since it is a reactive process, it will probably have to break down completely before it is corrected.”
    — Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, 1995

    And so it goes…

  3. ottmar

    steve1: I hear what you are saying. Hackers are a relatively small group and I think the music industry should be more concerned with what the general public would do. Would the average person prefer to spend x-amount of time hacking the content or prefer to pay a reasonable amount and be done with it. Hackers will almost always find a way to get to the pie anyway.

    I remember reading that Negroponte book. It’s a bit like saying breathing is overrated except that I need air. Meaning that we have no real alternative model that works at this time. I figure the best I can do is edge forward, keep pulling the sled and hope that there is a slope ahead.

  4. steve1

    Ottmar: “…I think the music industry should be more concerned with what the general public would do…”

    Agreed. However, just to point out: one of the things that inevitably happens is a hacker creates some type of extremely technical, tweeky hack. Someone else puts a GUI wrapper (or user friendly CLI) around it, and the next thing you know you have a (pretty much) general public ready hacking tool which will do extremely technical things, but with minimal input and knowledge required from the user. Then everybody finds out about it because it gets (repeatedly) mentioned in various special interest forums… POOF! … there goes the DRM.

    Now you are right: 50% of people will be stopped by the DRM, because they will posses neither the time/skill nor the inclination to operate the aforementioned software. But you still have the remaining 50% THAT WILL and that cuts dramatically into artists’ revenue stream. And that, totally … TOTALLY sucks.

    I don’t envy artists these days. Not one bit. You folks are truly in deep kimchi, and it would truly stink to have ones income tied to a medium that is so easily compromised from a revenue-stream standpoint.

    But, I also don’t have any answers: as a geek, I know that heretofore, the technical responses I have seen to the problem are remarkably ineffective. What to do? I really don’t know. I truly wish I had an answer.

  5. ottmar

    steve1: Well, the biggest mistake was to let others dictate the medium. In the past the music industry would select a medium, LP, MC, or CD and, those were the formats that were released. Most labels actually manufactured their own product.

    What happened with downloads and digital music files is that the record labels let the computer industry dictate the format and allowed them to lock files to their particular brand, whether it was Sony, Microsoft or Apple. Seems like a total business no-no to me. You don’t let somebody else dictate the format of your product or content, if at all possible.

  6. Victor

    Ottmar, I’ve been thinking about your statement: “the biggest mistake was to let others dictate the medium”. I have to wonder who is really creating this “media game” (i.e. who profits and who loses)? Admittedly, I don’t have figures from which to make an analysis, but I have observed that rarely are such decisions a “mistake” when you follow the money.

    So, what I’m suggesting is that at some level the profit-bleeding of music piracy is being looked at as a nuisance that is only worthy of a little lip-service and an occasional ad-campaign to try and curb it. That’s all we’re seeing… no real action to stop it! This makes me think the current system was all calculated as part of a new business model for record sales.

    To a media conglomerate the artist is an input commodity that is getting less expensive over time to develop and produce. Who owns the radio waves and what is their relationship to the hardware manufacturers? (Those mp3 players need to be filled with more and more content each year!) It’s also interesting how corporate partners are subsidizing the touring (i.e. paying to develop and promote the artists). And on the production side, fewer CD’s are being produced and shipped meaning the music can be sold at a cheaper price while profit margins actually go up.

    I think you’re having to play in an arena that’s becoming more and more stacked against the independent artist and (sadly) I don’t think there is any mistake about it.

  7. steve1

    “Well, the biggest mistake was to let others dictate the medium”

    You are right. But if that is true, and I’m quite certain that it is, then this whole thing started back in 1980 when Sony and Philips issued the first Red Book standard for the CD.

    So, you have two extremely significant events: commercial release of digitized music, and a format for the distribution of the digitized music.

    Both of these highly significant events were made possible due to the R&D of two consumer electronics companies: the aforementioned Sony and Philips.

    Additionally, the format was/is proprietary. i.e., in order to be “Red Book Compliant” it had to comply with specifications as indicated by the trademark/patent holder, and deviations or extensions took it out of “red book territory.” A disc could be many things with additional data included, just not “Red Book Compliant.” Adding DRM in this context would be considered “additional data” or an “extension.”

    I seem to recall litigation fairly recently regarding Philips and someone else (I wish I could recall the details) who were attempting to implement DRM (Sony?) on CDs but this violated the standard, and the resulting discs were in violation of the Compact Disk Digital Audio trademark.

    So, it appears (to me at least) that we are dealing with a pretty long standing issue, and it’s because no one is/was minding the store at the labels (for a VERY long time).


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