lovehate: Renting Music (Bill C-61 Revisited)

While the Canadian parliament is out of session for the summer Conservative Sith Lord Jim Prentice's Bill C-61 (Canada's take on reforming copyright and Digital Rights Management) is getting batted around more than a pinata at Cinco de Mayo.

For as complete a compendium of information as you could hope to get on the issue, I refer you to where almost every aspect of fair copyright for Canadians is represented through links to interviews and articles.

While my thoughts on C-61 are pretty clear, I thought maybe another question would provoke the marketing wizards that sell music in stores or online: am I just renting music?

For years people have been able to rent paintings and sculptures from galleries in order to decorate their lives for a few weeks or months at a time. Why should music be any different? If the only rights "owned" on a piece of music are by the artist, producer, and writer, what am I really paying for with a 99 cent song download or a 15 dollar CD purchase? If I cannot take that CD and replicate into the other formats that allow me to enjoy it at its fullest, I seriously have to consider whether buying (should consumer ownership of art actually exist) is such a worthwhile thing.

I don't purchase CDs at stores or online anymore, but one of the places I do buy them is when I'm at shows of smaller or independent performers because often those purchases entail more money going directly to the artist. The first thing I do when I get home, however, is rip all of the tracks onto my computer so I can use them on my Nano. If I buy the same tracks online, Apple takes the cut that band gets at the venue. This formula works the same for a music store that takes a cut every time a CD gets purchased. But, if Bill C-61 passes, I'll have to wonder if it's ever worth it for me to buy a CD again. If every CD mastering house starts to put forth an even insignificant protection scheme on every CD, I can be fined tens of thousands of dollars for ripping one disc. If I ripped a DVD to my Nano to watch on a flight to Vegas, same penalty.

And this raises a further question: if purchasing a song, or collection of songs, in any format does not give me any real rights of self-distribution, am I really "buying" anything at all? How would the average consumer feel about renting music instead of buying it? Would you be willing to pay 99 cents for a song that you could only listen for three months on one computer? Should I buy a DVD that I can only watch on my laptop computer but not a DVD player? I may as well just buy an iTouch and use wi-fi to stream everything without owning a single song or film.

Those who rent paintings do so to make a statement, send a message, impress visitors or sell their condo. I don't listen to music or watch the films I do to impress anybody. Ask my friends and they'll tell you I have some pretty messed up loves and hates when it comes to music and films that wouldn't impress anyone. So if I'm purchasing music, it's for the long haul, and the last thing anyone should want is to prevent a lifelong love of a band or song to be threatened just because formats change.

And that's the real rub isn't it? CDs will be obsolete in five years or less and the music industry is afraid, because while they could sell people on compact discs being "better" than vinyl in the 80s (at least enough to make you re-buy your entire collection), that pitch is going to be far more difficult when the average download quality pales in comparison to the CD you have now. The average mp3 has six to ten times less audio information than a track form a compact disc. Why would I buy everything again in a lesser format unless the law forced me to?

Bill C-61 is a cash grab by the music labels, retailers, and their lobbyists in Ottawa. Sure there are pieces in the bill that deal with music re-distribution (from one party to another) but we already have legislation to deal with such occurrences. Bill C-61 will serve to do one thing upon its signing - make half of the population instant criminals. Thank you Sith Lord Prentice, may I have another?

1 response
Sith Lord. I like it.

I've been dutifully mailing off my displeasure about C-61 to Prentice and his ilk since the beginning, and I really hope this thing at very least gets watered down to the point of uselessness. Otherwise we're all screwed.

I do this for a living. I'm completely with you about buying locally from bands so that THEY get the revenue, not Apple (via iTunes) or their label (or the marketers. or the distributors.) I applauded Radiohead and Reznor for directly marketing new materials. There's really no reason smaller outfits can't benefit from the same - unless of course they've already signed contracts with labels that prohibit such behaviour.

The benefit of being a rock superstar is you can tell the rest of the world to piss off and still make money.

Perhaps social networking will evolve to the point that artists can exist on the merits of their abilities, trading the patronage system (which musicians have been living under since J.S.Bach) for a more egalitarian patronage built from consensus, not control.

Sigh. I might have to get off my arse and blog on this one too. It gets my blood boiling.