Thursday, August 21, 2008

Music & Religion

There is a rumor that has been circulating that Apple is going to be introducing a music subscription service like Rhapsody. I don't know if it is true, but hope that it is. I love music subscription services, and am a current subscriber to Rhapsody, but I would switch to Apple in a minute so I could use my neat iPod with it.

But what triggered me wanting to write about this was not the rumor, but the reaction to the rumor by certain quarters. Specifically, whenever you read about subscription services, you always read vehement and angry comments from people that don't like the idea of subscriptions. It is certainly fine to not want it for yourself. But what is odd to me is the anger that said people have at the idea that I might want something different.

It's fascinating that this response always comes from the "free" music crowd, and yet I am confident, if they had a magic wand, they would make such services illegal, or so socially or politically unacceptable that they would not be offered.

This vehemence strikes me as strange because clearly I should have the right to buy something the way I want and a vendor should have the right to sell it to me in the way that s/he wants.

In short, it strikes me that the free music crowd is really more a religious movement than one based in logic and reason. It is very similar to the way that certain fundamentalist religious groups demonize people for different beliefs. Here the free music community demonizes subscription services because, by definition, subscriptions must use DRM, which is "evil". And the irrational zealous passion brought to bear is exactly analogous to the behavior of every out of control religious group in human history. Ok, they haven't gotten to burning people at the stake, but you know what I mean.

The point is, even if you have the wacky view that all music or intellectual property should be free, the idea that you should consider business and interaction models, and technologies like DRM that don't match your world view to be "evil", is, to me, bizarre. This is particularly true when the DRM *enables* a, compelling, at least for some, business model such as subscriptions.

As I see it, this movement would be more appropriately lead by a religious figure like Pat Robertson, or John Hagee, or Richard Stallman, or... oh wait, it is!


  1. No, I think their behavior is a natural reaction to the actions of major record labels over the last 10 years. The time gap between the ubiquity of the MP3 and the business models to sell them allowed consumers to get used to the idea of "free" music. Moreover, the draconian rules governing Apple's DRM make sharing music-- even with yourself-- unnecessarily difficult. A limit of 5 computers? Between work and home, I've used 5 computers in the last 2 weeks.

    But even the concept of subscription based services w/DRM doesn't work for me -- I suppose it's a holdover from having a record collection. I like having all my music on an external HD sans DRM.

    But what do you think about business models like emusic? A happy medium perhaps?

  2. I think all business models including emusic are good. To me the idea that we should be comparing them in terms of what is more right or "better" is wrong. There should be lots of ways to buy stuff so that it meets the full spectrum of demands of the marketplace. Religious zeal against *my* freedom to buy or another person's right to sell is no more "reasonable" than the pope's position that birth control is immoral.

  3. I like the idea of free music. I would love to have terabytes of MP3s that I didn't have to pay for. However, most music now is not free. I don't feel like trolling Usenet forums or Kazaa to download free, but illegal, music. I also cannot afford to buy all of the music that I want to listen to. I would gladly pay for a subscription service if I could listen to the tunes on the go. I'm seriously considering Slacker for that specific reason. I want to support the artists that I listen to so that they can keep producing the music that I love.

    - Jeremy

  4. Hank,

    I subcribed to Napster To Go the first week it came out, and I love it. I'll hear a song I like or think of one from my past and boom, it's on my player. That's especially good for songs I'll quickly get sick of, I don't have the bummer feeling of having paid for it. But I too would probably switch to iTunes to get to use an iPod. And as far as computer restrictions go, I only have to sync my player once a month; that means I just have to be in the presence of one of my approved computers during that time, not a hard task.

    I agree that many "free" music people seem appalled at subscription sites. But you often see these folks oppose any business model that they wouldn't feel comfortable with, even though they're always shouting at the industry "dinosaurs" to adopt more business models. Logic is not a strong suit here.

  5. I think you're confusing two issues here on purpose to make your comments seem more cogent: free music, and free of DRM.

    I love the idea of free music. I respect it *may* be an ideal but I'm not prepared to declare that (yet). However, there are many solutions yet to be presented. The meaning of free doesn't nescessarily extend to mean no strings attached, e.g what about mass advertising to pay costs? There is still a cost to the user, the adverts, but it of a non-monetary nature. Would you consider this free?

    DRM is just plain wrong. It violate personal property rights. It treats all users as criminals (although its important to remember its only a civil violation not a criminal one) by restricting and preventing normal and legal user activities. For example, in the UK by law you are allowed to make a backup of your media (CDs, DVDs, etc) but because of the DRM you can't. Not only that but the DRM-providers can then screw with their legal customers, e.g. the Microsoft MSN Music Store debacle ( where users could no longer change their machine or OS (including reinstalls) or they would not be able to access the music they had PAID for.

    DRM is nothing more than protectionism for the industry. It doesn't prevent the proper pirates as they have special machines purpose built to evade DRM, it hits the end users, the little guy. Is that fair?

  6. Anonymous,

    So what you are saying is that despite the fact that I *like* subscription services like Rhapsody, DRM is evil and since DRM is required to offer a subscription service like Rhapsody I have no right to it because you think its evil...

    And that's not religious?

  7. No I think you've made a fundamentally wrong assumption: DRM is not required. Are you saying that subscription services are impossible without DRM? Could it be they've just not yet found the "best" method?

    And stop bring religion in to this, I never said evil, that was you word. Why is it that you see fit to label anyone with a strong contrary opinion to yours as religious? These are political beliefs not spiritual ones. I guess using your system everyone from Stalin to Mao are religious since they have strong political beliefs.... an interesting notion. Although I strongly suggest you read more on Richard Stallman, he specifically says that "free" does not nescessarily mean free as in "free beer".

    And I never said you should do what I say, use whatever service you like and pay what you like.

    My points were about the definition of the word "free" and that DRM is a bad choice, both in terms of restriction of legal uses and that it is as effective at preventing piracy (its supposed purpose) as flame-throwers are firing bullets: wrong weapon of choice.

    Lets face it you have chosen to subscribe to a legal music provider. You could have easily aquired the majority of your library via illegal downloads. You haven't done this and its not the DRM that stopped you. The DRM says ok so you've paid for the music but I'm now going to tell you how it can be used. All the DRM does is stop existing legal users spreading the music on to illegal downloads but the fact is its already there. For as long as music is available on it will be available for illegal download. So what's the point of the DRM?

    The only answer I know for that is that it makes the record labels feel happier. And as all good programmers know a false sense of security is no security at all. I guess they think they'll be able to stamp out file sharing eventually but I'd be surprised. The P2P technology has genuine uses and so long as it, or its replacement, fill that niche people will subvert it for the sharing of illegal downloads we'll just find more ingenous ways to do it.

  8. The logic is that subscription services use DRM, DRM is evil, therefore subscription services are evil.

    This isn't actually stupid. The more DRM is used, the more likely companies are to put it in with their non-subscription music. This isn't a logical necessity, but companies like to make their products as uniform as possible, and if there is no cost to the company to putting DRM in songs that people buy, why shouldn't they?

    That gets into the technology, which I'm not an expert on. But in general, I loathe the idea that even though I bought something, I don't own it. If I buy a song online, I should be able to put it on a million computers, so long as I don't distribute those computers to other people. The more DRM is used, even in legitimate ways, the more likely it is to be used in non-legitimate ways.

    Although I actually no problem with music subscription services in general, DRM or no, it doesn't mean there isn't cause for concern.

  9. I won't use this (or any) subscription service simply because I can't meaningfully consume music at such a high rate, but I don't begrudge them for offering the servie.

    Apple is a bit of a religion, too. Apple gets away with a lot of things other companies would not be able to. Say if Microsoft tried to do a DRM-based subscription service.

  10. This is one of the most mindless blogs I have read, yet. Don't you have anything constructive to do? Don't you have enough to keep busy? What utter nonsense. All you're going to do is keep whining until you piss someone off. It's not constuctive dialog or even intelligent commentary, it's foolishness. And it serves to reinforce my opinion that 98% of blogs have the singular purpose of creating an online visibility for the bloggerarnssbs, to network, etc. Nothing useful at all, just regularly scheduled crap.

  11. I understand that this market had to face up to the piracy problem, but i's also a fact that DRM hits only "good" customers, denying their proper rights, since pirates know well how to circumvent it.

    I don't find shamefull or outrageous the fact that this problem is sometimes approached with religious fervour: because the transformations induced by the digital era are sociological and philosophical.

    Just mention two facts:

    i. copyright law was originally intended to regulate one and only medium, book printing: the threshold between idea and expression, absolutely fundamental for the concept of copyright, was worked out in the late 18th century by philosophers like Fichte and Kant.
    The "copyrightability" concept has evolved through centuries (in 1961 the Conference of Rome put in also recorded musical sounds) and, since the early '80s, even computer software is copyrightable (including algorithms). So Fichte’s philosophical distinction between idea and expression has clearly become terribly abstracted.
    Moreover, digital technology is promoting reuse of works, what was an output often becomes the input for a new work (musical remixes, photos in movies, novels' spin-offs): it is not the creation anymore, but the editing, that marks the moment of production.

    ii. The digital economy is run on a river of copies: unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, often these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

    The internet itself is a copy machine since, in order to send a message from one corner of the world to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times.
    And our wealth sits upon this super-distribution system.

    Finally, we could refer to Walter Benjamin (The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction - 1936) or Adorno to introduce the fact that, with the digital copy, the relation between the original and the copy is turned upside down.
    And even after all this, as long as we will continue using our ears to listen to music, there will always be the so-known "analog hole".

    So, the problem is philosophical, anthropological and sociological and, since the border is so blurred, we could finally come to religion.

    Ironically, since DRM is such a black&white approach (you can't copy, stop), it seems to me that it's the music market that should face up the changing of times less religiously (and considering also its many benefits).

    Christiano Presutti aka xho
    [sorry for the long post and hope my english was good enough]

  12. Anonymous,
    You make yourself sound quite stupid by criticizing this blog, and blogging in general, when you obviously spend a lot of time reading them. Just stick with your porn, or whatever else you do online, and save this space for those who have something relevant to say.


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