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I supported the recording industry’s legal fights against Napster and other such services, not so much for the good of the record companies but for the artists. No one will claim that the artists have been fairly treated by the record companies; in fact, their track record in that regard is two steps removed from indentured servitude. But I failed to see the logic, argued heatedly by Napster proponents, that since record companies so often treated the artists unfairly viz. the compensation they paid the artists for their efforts, it was therefore an improvement to switch to a system whereby there was no compensation whatsoever for the artists, whose work was distributed without their consent. I called this the “Robin Hood argument”, and I never bought it; instead, I suspected ulterior motives on the part of the pro-Napsterites — and my suspicions were in part born out by the tone many of them took in their argumentation. They usually ended up sounding like nothing so much as pale imitators of the Veruca Salt character from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: “Daddy, I want my free music now!!!”

But now, just a year and a half later, the recording industry has shot itself in the foot with their clumsy attempts at copy-protecting CDs. They are terrified of piracy, which is made absurdly easy by the prevalence of CD-R drives. The problem, though, is that their copy-protection schemes frequently render CDs unplayable in some players, and in any event are easily circumvented. The whole enterprise is glaringly disrespectful of the idea of fair use, and is in all likelihood ridiculously futile anyway. The record companies need desperately to get on the bandwagon of new technology, or they will soon be extinct.

A good article on the quandaries facing the recording industry appears in the current issue of Time, and also appears online here. (ASIDE: for some unintentional hilarity, check out the article’s accompanying photograph of Morpheus founder Steve Griffin. His picture is taken sitting down, and behind him is a wall-hanging hung in such a way that the picture makes it appear as if Griffin is wearing some kind of gonzo Ancient Egyptian headdress.) A sidebar article features a guy who created a site to let music consumers pay artists directly for the music they download, eliminating the record company as middle man entirely. That article is here.

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