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Music to My Peers

Music to My Peers

While anti-authoritarian youth used to "rage against the machine", now they "rage using the machine", with illegally downloaded dance music

I admit it. I have copied computer games without paying for them, many of which are still sitting in their 5¼in diskette boxes. As this was done 20 years ago, I'm hoping the statute of limitations will protect this admission from prosecution. What reminded me of these former nefarious activities is the current debate over Digital Rights Management (DRM) for music downloads, games, movies and books. It's been recently inflamed by an application called FairUse4WM, which has broken the copy protection code introduced into Windows Media Player.

I'm meticulously following this debate to determine where I stand on the issue. Like the republican debate in Australia, there seems to be three sides to the copying debate - one for No and two for Yes. There are those who are absolutely against it under any circumstance (the Anti-Copyists), those who are absolutely for it under all circumstances (the Copyists), and those who are for it conditionally - in this case if there's no financial damage (If-Owned-Copyists).

Anti-Copyists contend that artists should receive value, in the form of payment, equivalent to the value the consumer gets in listening to their song or playing their game, in the form of enjoyment. I agree with that argument. The If-Owned-Copyists point out that if the music has been paid for, why can't it be copied, for example from PC to iPod, another argument I support. They quickly stress it would be one's own iPod, not that of a friend, family member or whole group of loose acquaintances. Copyists advocate that licensing stifles freedom and hurts the exposure of artists, therefore there should be no restrictions. I also agree with this argument, even though this could be summarized as "I want stuff for free" (a common Internet sentiment).

Totally Agreeable

Anti-Copyists say that downloading a song without payment is like stealing a CD from a shop. I agree. Even though the billions of dollars they claim artists and companies lose without DRM schemes does not account for the fact that the vast majority of pirated music, games, CDs and DVDs are products people would not purchase at market prices. Although given that markets are where most people buy their pirate DVDs, perhaps I should use the term street price instead. The loss of billions is more a marketing statement, like when a newspaper says it has a million readers, but only sells 200,000 papers.

The two Copyists groups have found a useful slogan in Fair Use, which I agree with. Even though they don't specify exactly who gets to determine what's fair, and to whom. The ability to freely upload information, including the occasional copyrighted video, must be worth a fair amount, though, judging by Google's recent $US1.65 billion purchase of YouTube.

Copyists contend that given the problem is so widespread and the remedies so limiting, all restrictions should be removed, which I agree with. Even though the idea of "if it's too hard to police, just drop it" sounds like the argument that proposes the best way to reduce crime is to decriminalize everything.

Some Copyists even wrote an open letter to Microsoft asking them not to patch the exposed flaw in Media Player, using the curious argument that removing DRM on a file makes it more useful, and therefore more valuable, thus boosting music and subscription sales. I'm struggling to agree with this as it sounds like saying shoplifting groceries easily from a supermarket makes the supermarket more popular - which it does, but only among shoplifters.

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