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Yahoo, iTunes and music rental

Filed in: music, rights, Wed, May 11 2005 17:03 PT

I see here, from the beaches of Ixtapa, that Yahoo has announced a music subscription service that comes out to around half the cost of the competing Napster and Rhapsody services. I don’t have many details other than the stories I managed to download, but it looks like something that I’d be willing to sign up for, at $5 or $7 a month.

There’s something that sort of confuses me when it comes to the debate over music subscription versus something like the iTunes Music Store. Advocates of the iTunes approach tell you that it’s all well and good that you can listen to all of this music on demand, but you’ll never own it like you do with music you’ve bought from iTunes.

Really? How’s that? I have about a thousand albums that I can for all intents and purposes say that I “own”. They were CDs that I purchased in stores and MP3s I bought legally from Emusic. I have no limitations to how I use these tracks for my own purposes, subject to existing legal limits, which I disagree with, but obey.

On the other hand, I have three tracks that I’ve paid for via the iTunes Music Store. One of them was on the laptop that was stolen, and I won’t get that one back. If I had the CD, I’d have been able to re-rip it, but as it is, that’s a dollar down the hole. Another track is associated with an email account I no longer control, with a password I can’t find, so that one’s as good as dead to me. And without burning the tracks to CD (at a lower quality than I would have had on a physical disc) and re-ripping them as MP3, none of them are of any use to me outside of Apple’s iTunes/iPod walled garden. In fact, I found iTunes changed my default ripping behavior from MP3 to AAC without my knowledge, presumably during my upgrade to Tiger, only after I’d ripped a dozen or so CDs for my vacation. (Luckily, BetaPlayer on Windows Mobile understands AAC. Free software kicks ass.)

Meanwhile, for these tracks I’ve paid for, Apple has changed the terms under which I can use them by altering its FairPlay DRM. To state an extreme case, Apple could shut down the entire iTunes project tomorrow, or even disable the software — something nobody can do to my CDs or MP3s, try as they might. And the day will come when that software is ancient, and support could be dropped. It may be five or ten years from now, but when it happens, those with hundreds or thousands of locked-down music tracks will be feeling pretty silly for not having made a CD copy.

How is this considered ownership? Both of these systems represent the same offer — temporary access to DRMed music files — on different terms (individual tracks on long-term lease versus entire catalogues on short-term rental). Music on demand is worth paying a fee. The sale of music in easily-obsoleted digital formats is not.

I’ll take Yahoo up on its offer and rent my music, rather than buying from iTunes. But when I find something I like, I’ll hop over to the record store and buy it on CD. It’ll save me money to be able to hear entire albums before I buy them (Blu Cantrell: what was I thinking?), and I’ll have ultimate control over what I can do with the music, unless they manage to succeed in making the DRM CD. (Which I doubt they will, unless they can fool us all into DVD-Audio.)

But at the same time, I’d pay much more for a compulsory licensing scheme, where I’d have unlimited download access to an entire catalog in a robust format. And I’d pay even more than that to be able to turn around and podcast the items that I want, rather than fooling around with the licensing nightmare we have now.

I’ve even considered submitting a show to Adam Curry’s Sirius show called The Podcast I Can’t Do, featuring the music I have in my collection. I’m not able to distribute a show like that because of the cost involved in doing it all legally, but since Sirius picks up the tab on its broadcast network, I’d be free to do what I like. I wonder what Podshow would think about that.

5 responses to “Yahoo, iTunes and music rental”

  1. Allen says:

    Although ITunes does have its flaws… Its not as “evil” as you make them out to be.

    Your examples are flawed… or rather your first one is.

    One of them was on the laptop that was stolen, and I won’t get that one back. If I had the CD, I’d have been able to re-rip it, but as it is, that’s a dollar down the hole.

    wrong… lets try this analogy… You bought a CD-single (anyone remember those?) and you listened to it in your car. Your car is stolen with the CD in the cd-player… Your out of a car (the laptop), a cd-player (Itunes) and a CD (the track you downloaded).

    The third one… wasnt really a fault against buying from iTunes…

  2. I have to agree with you, Matt – as much of a Mac afficionado I am, I don’t feel that I really own the iTunes songs and audio tracks I’ve downloaded. (Perhaps I don’t deserve too, anyway, as I’ve performed the Pepsi bottle-cheat on a number of occasions; that is, I’ve tilted the bottles to see if the bottles were iTunes winners before purchasing them.)

    I purchased a number of iTunes tracks during the first year of the service, aware of the DRM limitations yet also knowing that I could burn the tracks to Cknowing aboutD to “get around” these limitations. As time would prove, it’s been a serious hassle to transfer my iTunes to other devices. To do so (legally), I need to first convert the tracks to CD audio. Then I need to re-encode them to whichever particular format I need them in. Some folks are willing to go through this process; for me, it’s painfully time-wasting. (Remember also that whenevever you have to encode to a lossy format your are losing sound quality; so with iTunes, I’m often reducing the quality of sound from its original format at least twice.)

    With the eMusic tracks I’ve purchased, I really do own them, as I am able to transfer them to a variety of portable devices and computers without having to jump through digital conversion hoops.

    As far a subscription services, I really enjoyed using a subscription service called Musicmatch, though I haven’t used it for about a year since I switched to Linux on my PC. Yahoo! now owns the service, so I have hope that they’re incorporating Musicmatch’s technology into Yahoo! Music Unlimited. One can only hope. If so, then this may be a subscription service I’d actually be willing to pay for (besides Live365, which I subscribe to mainly because I enjoy the variety of niche content).

  3. admin says:

    Allen,

    Nowhere did I call anything evil, so let’s leave your words out of my mouth.

    Your analogy isn’t any better. In the case of a stolen physical CD, there’s a substantial cost involved in replacement, and proof of purchase would be another headache. In Apple’s case, however, they know that I bought the track. They know that I have a limited number of machines on which I’d be able to play it. And the cost to allow that re-download approaches zero. They would be able to restore access to the music I paid for trivially, but still they do not. That may not be evil, but it’s at least bad business.

  4. Joe says:

    Go back the the car analogy.

    If you crash your car, you can still get the CD out of the cd player and expect to use it.

    If you laptop crashes, the music is destroyed and itunes won’t let you redownload it. Yes, you can make backups, if your house burns down, will insurance cover this like they would my CD collection? I’d have to say GOOD LUCK insurance companies covering data? I doubt it.

    I own hundreds of CD’s none of which I keep in my car. I make mp3’s from my CD’s, put them on a disc and play the cd full of mp3’s in my car. If someone steals the car, they have stolen a $0.10 blank cd with some 1’s and 0’s on it. I can remake another copy without a great loss of money.

    itunes is not 100% evil, most of their rules come from the VERY EVIL recording industry.

  5. […] [1] If it’s slathered with DRM, you don’t really own it. […]

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