April 29, 2005

iTunes Anonymous - support group needed

Is it just me or is there anyone else out there addicted to iTunes Music Store?  It's like being at a dollar store and you keep buying all these things you don't need but kind of like because they're so darn cheap. You keep seeing these signs everywhere - buy me for only $0.99!  I now see them in my sleep.  I need help.

I used to "share" music (albeit with complete strangers named Kazaa+++) but then I bought my iPod Shuffle and Apple told me "Don't steal music.  Ne Volez pas la musique.  Bitte keine Musik stehlen.

Those three English words dig their nails into your conscience, plant the seed of guilt and perpetuate a paranoia you can't escape.  Do the music police know where I live?  What will they do to my family?  Will they turn Spot into p�t�? The face, the face, don't touch the face!  Suddenly you're over at the Apple Music Store trying to stick the IV (USB cord) directly into your vein.  You can't stop.  Just $0.99 more.  That's less than a dollar, you know.  No one will miss a dollar.  Or another.  Or one more.  Or perhaps 30 more?  On a good day.  Please, I need help.  Someone help me.  I'm not sure I can live this lie any longer.

You have to give it to Apple.  Its site is easy to use, so spending good hard increments of $0.99 is really, really easy.  Scary easy.  In fact, it's only one click away.  I unchecked the verification of purchase box so now when I click, it doesn't bother to ask me if I'm sure, if I can really afford it, if I'm all right with eating PB&J's or Mac & Cheese for the rest of the month because before I know it, the song is downloaded and my VISA is charged.  The man (only a man could be this evil) who developed this system is a genius or a drug pusher or both.  I bet he owns a big house, several really nice cars and now my soul.

So what am I buying?  Pretty much anything the iTunes Music Store wants me to.  I get these cute little, caring emails telling me what everyone else is downloading.  Even my own mother doesn't email me this often.  One click and I get to listen to a short clip then I start to feel all giddy inside and my right index finger feels all twitchy so before I know it, I own it.  And before breakfast, iTunes Music Store owns me and/or rights to my firstborn.

I would like to give you a unique opportunity to help someone in need.  Find charity deep in your hearts.  Never mind all those people washed ashore or not by that little tsunami, folks needing clean water to drink (I mean, haven't they ever heard of Pelligrino?), those freaks who can't let go of their tree long enough to take a shower or those cute little endangered mammals in China (how expensive are bamboo shoots and leaves anyway?).  There is someone in more need.  Me!

Please act now and send your $0.99 via PayPal at your earliest convenience.  Your donation can go to "iTunesownsMichelleSoul@addicted.com".  Thank you for your ongoing support.  You are doing a very good thing.

Your dear friend in blogging,


Posted by Michelle at 04:42 PM GMT

Haha, that's pretty scary. Maybe you need an SO, I don't know. Or start playing World of Warcraft, that can keep you busy.

The shuffle doesn't have a screen, right? Does it just play random songs? I guess that's why it's called shuffle.

Posted by: Andrew on April 29, 2005 07:52 PM

Have you bought this yet?

Posted by: Stefan Geens on April 30, 2005 08:06 AM

She's just your kinda wet dream, eh Geens?

Posted by: Marc on May 1, 2005 07:31 PM

I feel you pain/pleasure. I just started buying up songs (and discs) about a month ago and I can't seem to stop. It's that instant gratification thing. Plus, MP4s are awesome. No one seems to be talking about MP4, but it's a CD-quality file at MP3 size.

Posted by: David Burn on May 1, 2005 10:21 PM

Stefan, Can't read your link. Maybe that's a good thing though cuz once I see it, I'll NEEEEED to have it.

Uh, I guess I'm a nimrod...are MP4s what iTunes is selling? Obviously, the sound quality is way better than that stuff I used to "share" on Kazaa. A lot of songs were 'scratched' in the middle and the effect was way worse than someone running her fingernails down the blackboard. That, in and of itself, was enough to stop.

The movies were cool though especially the free porn.

Posted by: michelle on May 2, 2005 03:00 PM

Yes, the songs you download from iTunes are MP4 files, and MP4 is a major advance over MP3.

MP3 files are severely compressed, thus not true representations of the original�one of the key points the recording industry fails to grasp.

Posted by: David Burn on May 2, 2005 07:01 PM

�Don't steal music�
�Do the music police know where I live? What will they do to my family? Will they turn Spot into p�t�? The face, the face, don't touch the face!�

Notable is the invisible elephant in the livingroom, that nobuddy posting here seems to be motivated by the principle that it is socially destructive to steal stuff. I know a lot of the rationalizations to defray the ugly truth, but stealing is still taking something that is not yours. Somebody, somewhere, gets hurt a little... or a lot. Why do you not care?

I would say those of you with this attitude are �ethically unencumbered care-less and unjust acquisitionists�.
God (that does not exist? ) is offended... cuz he cares about the folks you hurt.

Posted by: Sage7 on May 3, 2005 03:56 AM

Gosh, you're right. I'm really sorry that I hurt Sony and her multi-million dollar checking account.

Yet another reason for me to rot in hell...

Posted by: michelle on May 3, 2005 05:30 AM

For once I agree with Sage7.

Posted by: Jame on May 3, 2005 11:54 AM

I would agree with Sage7, and Jame, if I didn't think that the media megacorporations have pulled off a stunning coup in taking activity which for decades was perfectly acceptable and spinning it as theft. I don't think there's very much in the Bible about intellectual property and copyright, and I'm not going to start reproducing long stretches of Lessig prose here. But consider this: if I walk into my local Virgin Megastore and steal a CD, that's definitely theft. If I buy that CD and then rip the songs onto my computer as MP3 files, that's definitely not theft. If I give those MP3 files to my friend, is my friend a thief?

Posted by: Felix on May 3, 2005 01:38 PM

Now iTunes sells MP4s which can only be played on its software or an iPod (am I right?). I got a new computer yesterday and transferred my plethora of files and it required 'authentication'. I had to enter my account number and password just to play it.

My problem with this is: though I've bought this intellectual property, I can't give it to a friend and I can only use it on a limited basis. Being the sweetheart that I am, all night I was dreaming of giving 99 a most precious gift, "Another Night in Paradise" by Phil Collins so he could reminisce about the night he lost his cherry in the back of his...uh, Schwinn?

Sorry, 99 but I can never be the kind of friend I'd like to be to you. Please forgive me if I've hurt you.

Posted by: michelle on May 3, 2005 02:47 PM

Don't worry Michelle -- I'm no shrinking violet. I could shatter your lovely dream, but I'm not one to kiss and tell.

Posted by: 99 on May 3, 2005 02:57 PM

thats the catch with all this shit, that we should all resist: the new business model is that no one will own anything anymore. we only license the right to use according to the terms set forth by the corporation. this is our brave new world. no one will own anything anymore. the corporations will own it all and tell you how you can and cant use things that you used to own. this is the evolution of capitalism.

Posted by: sucker on May 3, 2005 02:57 PM

You're such a damn tease.

Posted by: michelle on May 3, 2005 05:51 PM

MP4 is a new rich media standard, which works across platforms. However, you can only authorize up to five computers to play the songs you've purchased from the iTunes store (Apple's somewhat lame compromise with the recording industry). You can always burn the songs to a disc, if you have a CD burner.

By the way, no one called it "stealing" when you made a tape of your favorite record and then gave it to your friend. It's the scale of mass swapping on the net that has the industry so concerned. But the whole thing is beyond absurd. Recording companies ought to want their artists to reach an audience as far and wide as possible. They fail to grasp that digital files do not equal the disc they're manufacturing and marketing. Digital files are often labor-intensive to acquire, the sound quality can be iffy, and there's no packaging. In other words, spreading the samples far and wide will lead to more sales, not fewer.

Posted by: David Burn on May 3, 2005 08:43 PM

I think David Burn answered Felix's challenge to me and Sage7. Yes I used to "steal" music by recording cassette tapes of friends' albums, or giving these away as gifts. But Napster transformed this cottage-industry stuff, which really only served to ignite interest in buying albums. There is a qualitative difference between copying a record onto a single physical medium for yourself, and setting up a platform for the entire world to copy someone's work.

Now, I understand the temptation of piracy. I can go to HMV and buy a DVD or CD for the equivalent of $15-20. Pretty outrageous, considering it takes probably $1 to make the disk and another $3-4 for the packaging/marketing, and another $2 for HMV's space. The price of CDs hasn't fallen for decades. It pisses me off.

It pisses a lot of people off. In Hong Kong there are plenty of places to get cheap pirate copies of reasonable quality, however. Shopping sprees to Shenzhen are a common weekend activity here. China is one big-ass pirate and it's got plenty of cheap DVDs to sell, often for movies that haven't even been released in theaters yet.

But this is still theft, now conducted on a mass scale. I don't have a moral sympathy for the gougers at American publishing corporations, I think they're greedy assholes, but at the end of the day it's still their property. As a creator of content myself, I understand this.

The reasons iTunes was so brilliant is that it unlocked the door and made legal, paid-for downloads easy and possible. I hope over time more intellectual property, including movies, will become available via similar routes, at much cheaper rates. Artists do want to see their work in the hands of as many fans as possible, but the old-fashioned tolerance of what was technically theft was based on the premise that bootlegs led to real sales. That promise no longer exists, and artists and other content providers do not stand to gain from Napster - except for the truly big ones with such overwhelming distribution backing that they can afford to let a few million copies go.

So no: I never buy pirated copies. It's a rule, it's a fair rule, and I stick to it.

Posted by: Jame on May 4, 2005 01:27 AM

I quibble with your tenses, Jame. "Old-fashioned tolerance of what was technically theft"? What is technically theft, now, in the US, in the wake of the DMCA and various other draconian pieces of legislation. It's not technically theft at all in Shenzhen, as I understand it. And it didn't used to be theft in the US, either. For a good background on all this, go here.

Posted by: Felix on May 4, 2005 02:38 AM

You're all gibbering idiots. Jame especially. If I steal an apple from a shop to feed my starving children, or steal a Killion dollars worth of copyrighted music to set up a pirate shop in Gwangzoo or somewhere it is all the same thing technically. The only real difference is the sentence the judge gives you when convicted. In the olden days both would have had you packed off in a ship to Australia. Now apparently if you is black and approaching the coast an a vessel of any sort the Australian navy sinks your boat and machine guns you in the water, but that's another matter.

Sucker is right, if annoyingly uncapitalized. The real question is what rights do I have after I have shelled out my wonga for Steps-Greatest Hits, the Ibitha Mix? Why can I NOT pass it onto someone else for free (OK, for money, I can't, fair enough). I own the stupid thing now. What is the legal theory behind this terrible abuse of my property rights?

Posted by: eurof on May 4, 2005 09:02 AM

Eurof's right (ewwwww!) but there's one mitigating factor: the recording industry itself is using the DCMA to prevent itself from fading into obsolescence.

Without control of distribution, the record companies are reduced to PR firms that collect obscenely massive fees. They are using the RIAA to preserve an industry that would otherwise crumble into a far more decentralized form.

Eventually recorded music will be free or virtually free, and recording artists will STILL make most of their income by touring. The RIAA membership will no longer exist.

Posted by: Sterling on May 4, 2005 01:43 PM

That's the whole point, Eurof, you don't "own the stupid thing", you own bupkis. Back in the day, when you bought an LP, you owned it. You could pass it on to someone else for free, you could sell it to someone else for money. There were even record fairs -- remember them? -- where certain LPs got sold for vastly more than their original retail price. Now, when you buy your copy of Free Me from the iTMS, you don't own it; all you have bought is the right to listen to it. You have no property rights at all, as far as I can tell.

Posted by: Felix on May 4, 2005 01:49 PM

cars, computers and consumer electronics are next. "leasing" is just an experiment to see if the sucker culture will take to it. and it has. less rights, yay capitalism!

Posted by: sucker on May 4, 2005 04:56 PM

And what of the moves that some of the digital cable companies are making to standardize the inclusion of a data stream to disable the use of the DVD-R? I for one don't have the time during the work week to watch some of the shows I enjoy, but soon I may not be able to watch them at all? What are they thinking? Remember when cassette tapes came out? There was all of this boo-hooing and now these mopes are doing it again.

Felix, right on, since when do I have to pay for the "right to listen?" If I own a CD I should be able to do with it as I please. If I want to stream the song to my cell, I should be able to. Instead, I must pay Verizon $2.99 so I can download Biz Markie's "Pickin' Boogers"? Now does that seem right to you?

And why doesn't anyone remember that it's the artists like James Hetfield that did this to them? Check out this link for a giggle on the whole thing. http://www.newgrounds.com/assassin/metallica/

Not that I recommend anything like this, but it's pretty fun.

Posted by: Sanford on May 4, 2005 05:35 PM

Can't you people recognize a desperation defense? The RIAA has its back against the wall. Give it another five years and it will all be over. All musicians will distribute their own music for free (or nearly free, because bandwidth isn't) in unencrypted format and charge website membership fees for bonus intangibles. And they'll make most of their income touring, just as they do now.

Netflix and recent competitive changes by rental firms like Blockbuster have already cut off this trend in the movie business - membership fees or buck-a-night movies are so convenient that they greatly reduce the incentive to commit a copyright violation.

Music will be free and freely shared, while feature films will continue to generate revenue for studios subsequent to theatrical release.

FWIW, I have no problem paying $1/song. I checked out iTunes and most of my purchased music has been played at least 10 times, and one song 45 times. Average looks like 15 - is three minutes of entertainment worth $0.07? Hell, you can't get that rate in Bangkok.

Posted by: Sterling on May 4, 2005 06:59 PM

That's true, now that Thai police are enforcing the 1am close rule.

Posted by: Jame on May 5, 2005 01:40 AM

Not that you ever managed to thusly consume a full three minutes, Jame.

Posted by: Sterling on May 5, 2005 05:00 AM

Stealing intellectual property = bad

Partaking in Bangkok's "entertainment" industry = bad (value for someone of let's say, challenged stamina)

Posted by: michelle on May 5, 2005 05:17 AM

I agree completely that "big music" is suffering from a case of the emperor's new clothes. Just look at an artist like Fergus McCormick, for example. He can choose to sell his music in iTunes, or else even just set up an account with Paypal and ship the CDs himself from his apartment. In the future, people like him will hire an agent, or a consultant, but will not need to sign contracts with firms that own the "means of dissemination," as that is now firmly in his control.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on May 5, 2005 01:59 PM

Stefan and Sterling, the only thing is, for a larger act, like let's say the Rolling Stones in the 70's and 80's, the logistics would be a nightmare. Selling it yourself is fine for the guy that move 300 of his CD's and burns each one himself. On the other hand, it you are going to sell a million plus, you have to deal with the cost of warehouse, logistics, procurment, engineering, inventory control, and inventory, etc. All of which is a lot to do and make good music too.

Sure, you could outsorce that control to an agent or consultant, but then you've just changed the title of the person you are going to loath in 3 years and the net result is the same. This "sell it yourself" approach is fine if you never want to make it out of your home town, otherwise, you have to start doing Paula Abduul.

I don't think at this time, the major acts are going to be able to record, distribute, generate buzz, set up tours, etc. themselves. That's what they pay the Recording Industry to do. Stefan in your model, just remove Recording Industry and insert consultant.

Posted by: Sanford on May 5, 2005 05:28 PM

Sanford: But don't forget to subtract "cartel" and "price-fixing". Big Music has the same function as insurance firms, or perhaps venture capital firms, bankrolling failures with successes. In the past, the barriers to entry to this business were great, because the costs of dissemination were so great, and this led to cartel-like situations, where artists had to vie to get the nod. It was a buyer's market for Big Music. And it led to sure profits.

But the cost of making a CD has dwindled, while the price has not. And now we are going to enjoy watching them pay. Thelr services are worth 12.5% on an artist's revenues, like any agent. Until that happens, we're going to watch them try anything to keep it like the good old days. It'll be fun.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on May 5, 2005 08:35 PM

Reward creators.

Felix: Re#10.

Artists (and all creators of intellectual property) who create something new and valuable should be paid for their effort. Otherwise the incentive to invest time and money to produce such creations is lost, and then we all lose.

Is that not obvious? Apparently, not to everyone.

The new ease of copying intellectual property is what muddies the waters. When you sold an LP record, you no longer had it. But if you only sell a copy, you can still enjoy that music, you gave up nothing but the trivial cost to make the copy. I knew very smart people at Stanford who just could not grasp the problem they cause by copying and distributing software they did not �own�. They offered lots of rationales which had some truth to them, but that truth has faded with time.

If you buy one copy and make more copies from yours, what is the problem? It depends on what you do with your copies. If your actions deprive the creators of some of their due compensation, you have done them harm. Not only to the creators, but also to all the others who invested some part of themselves in helping you get your copy. They too should be compensated for their efforts. Avoiding doing harm to your neighbors IS a Biblical concept, and does apply here. It is a simple matter of personal integrity.

Current law is struggling to cope with this problem, and discussions like this one are being heard in many quarters. Intellectual property laws are very difficult to both define and enforce. It is a problem because so much depends on the integrity of every individual, a declining quality in our current society. Property rights technology is trying to provide some relief, and I expect it will both deter thievery and irritate the honest.

�If I give those MP3 files to my friend, is my friend a thief?� Yes, and so are you, if thievery is defined as depriving someone their just due. Sans such a gift, your friend would either have to do without it, or give what is due to the producer of that intellectual property.

Posted by: Sage7 on May 5, 2005 09:13 PM

Michelle ....................

�Gosh, you're right. I'm really sorry that I hurt Sony and her multi-million dollar checking account.�

This is one of those rationalizations, it is called the �Robin Hood Mentality�. Robbing the rich to benefit the poor, even when I am one of those poor.

Question, where is the threshold? How much richer than you do I have to be before you decide that stealing from me is OK?

Posted by: Sage7 on May 5, 2005 09:26 PM


Leasing intellectual property is a means of having better knowledge of who has your product. That provides some assurance you will be paid your due.

I am really curious, how would you make sure producers of intellectual property get their due?

Posted by: Sage7 on May 5, 2005 09:38 PM

Sage7, if I saw you in the street, I'd mug you of your bible and beat you with it in a second. You are such an annoying mofo. Or, maybe you just can't read: I'm fucking buying music now! That's what the whole god damn post is about.

Posted by: michelle on May 5, 2005 09:38 PM

Sage, I make my living by creating intellectual property. If anybody should be worried about this "theft" you say is rampant, it's me. But I'm not. You worry about "the incentive to invest time and money to produce such creations" being lost? I don't: I see no evidence of that happening whatsoever. I see all manner of people spending vast amounts of time and effort to create musical masterpieces which, due to IP laws, will never get a commercial release and which therefore will never be profitable for their creators. I put just as much time into the writing I do for free, like this blog and felixsalmon.com, as I do into the writing I do for money. I see huge amounts of innovation and imagination out there, and I see it being stifled -- not protected -- by legislation like the DMCA and copyright laws. Do you know any documentary filmmakers? It's cheap to make a documentary these days; what's insanely expensive and time-consuming is getting the permissions and rights, after you've made it, to use certain bits of songs which might have been playing in the background during an interview, say. We live in a world of mash-ups and hyperlinks, where creativity more than ever before is an act of remixing the IP of the past. (Although as Larry Lessig takes pains to point out, Walt Disney himself specialised in this: Mickey Mouse, in Steamboat Willie, was a parody of Doug Fairbanks in Steamboat Bill.) You want the most and best creativity and innovation? Don't enforce the crazy IP laws, abolish them!

Taken to its logical conclusion, your arguments would imply that we should close down all public lending libraries; that we should make memorising a poem illegal. Maybe you are married and someone recited a poem at your wedding? Did you think of paying royalties to the person who wrote it? Free culture is about, well, free culture. It's a wondrous thing if only you open yourself up to it -- a bit like the holy spirit, I guess.

Posted by: Felix on May 5, 2005 09:59 PM

Michelle: My point was about your *motivation* for buying IP. You cited fear of prosecution, not respect for the producers of the respective IP.

That you got so ticked at my question makes me suspect you have no answer to it, but still feel entitled to do it to the rich. So what is really going on?

Posted by: Sage7 on May 8, 2005 02:51 PM

Felix: Apparently you do want IP works to be �profitable for their creators�. So do I.

In software, exploitive copying does discourage big programming projects. Millions of $ are often invested in creating a new product, and sometimes those creators do not realize a return on their investment due to exploitive copying. So some special circumstance must exist that would assure a return on investment in spite of abuses before such projects are launched. That usually requires a big company with an existing market presence. A tie-in to an already successful product is a good example.

While IP laws help to prevent that loss, they complicate copying software for non-exploitive reasons, like providing yourself a backup copy, or copies for both a laptop and a desktop computer, only one of which you use at a time. There is generally no objection to that, and often not even to sharing copies with family members. But preventing financial exploitation of such permissions depends mostly on the integrity of individuals.

I am encouraged when you say �I see all manner of people spending vast amounts of time and effort to create musical masterpieces...� I attribute that to the creative human spirit that must express itself, especially in the arts. I empathize with the frustration of artists who must face an impossible maze of IP restrictions. And I also condemn the record companies who are now obsolete (copying and distributing are no longer daunting to individuals) and are abusing IP law to hang on to their cash cow. I agree with Sterling, they will not survive due to the forces of natural justice.

Overall, I think abolishing IP laws would have a deleterious effect on the production of much valuable IP, even tho it may not impact the kind of IP you are involved with. The situation you cite cries out for an accommodation in IP law to tolerate fragmental infringement, where only the exploitive copying of unembedded whole works is clearly restricted. I am not a lawyer, but I think there are already some such accommodations, and apparently they are inadequate.

Do you know of any effort to introduce appropriate accommodations of this kind into IP law? Such law is hard to write cuz so much good judgment is required as to what is abusive and is not abusive. But laws are always crude expressions of intent, one-size-fits-all constructs that really only fit well to a narrow set of situations. Law is already written for other domains where much judgment is required, and the courts are supposed to work out what is just according to the expressed intent. Historically, there is a tolerable level of success with such law.

Posted by: Sage7 on May 8, 2005 04:43 PM

Michelle: I was trying at my mofo best to make you think, not to make you mad. You did imply that stealing from "...Sony and her multi-million dollar checking account." was OK. My comment was intended to help you realize the principle behind your implication. NOI, CIC.

Posted by: Sage7 on May 9, 2005 02:03 PM