Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Just a Song Before I Go

Its machinery is part of the scenery--the Apple (Dumpling Gang) have their technology in every aspect of our lives. They are the Red Sox to Steve Balmer's Microsoft Yankees, perhaps (I'm not good at either technology or baseball, though I am VERY fond of both, so I figured I'd throw that comparison out there and see if it stuck to the wall. Not only didn't it stick, but it left a mark) but I think all of us are better for the innovations and applications that have been the product of their uneasy coexistence for the last decades.

Sometime last week (or so-calendars are another thing I'm not really good with), Apple's iTunes marked its five billionth music download. It started in April of 2003, as the major record labels (or what's left of them) had finished pummeling Napster into oblivion. Napster, the child of Shawn Fanning's clever brain, started out as a file sharing service that many (=millions and millions) people used to share music with people they didn't know without the interaction of (or finanical benefit to) record retailers and wholesalers or music labels and was, because of this, an incredibly evil thing.

For artists (Metallica in particular), Napster was cursed for almost single-handedly "killing music" (Don Henley, I guess, never got that memo but wrote one of his own which I find as compelling today as when he authored it.) a term that recording companies had recycled from an earlier generation when they blamed home taping (thank goodness for ADD and no one remembering the Eighties). These days Napster is back, in a very different incarnation that never mentions its previous existence (in much the manner of the firemen in Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451) and I assume the record industry is out of intensive care, right?

Except, I'm troubled, a little no matter how many downloads iTune sells.
I have a car, I have a couch in my living room and I have a snowblower--to name just three items I own, or feel I own. You may have similar, though not the same, stuff (or that kid at the car/couch and snowblower emporium has got some 'splaining to do) or something like them and you think you own them, too. It's different with music now--and it's changed, not for the better, from when we were growing up and the change is the result of agreements quietly reached between the suits at the labels and the tie-dyes at places like iTunes that resulted in Digital Rights Management.

What if I told you we didn't own our cars--despite the payments every month and the DMV mailing us the title and the big smiles all around and 'honey, isn't this great, etc!' but rather we own a license to operate the vehicle NOT a driver's license (though we need that, too) a license, so to speak, to be allowed to (practically) own the car, or a couch or the snowblower. That is, we can use the item we bought and paid for, but it's not ours, and there are conditions to how we can use them that we agreed to abide by when we 'bought' the item.

Confused? Nothing to see or hear here, move along. If you thought that when the Supreme Court settled the Betamax argument, it was settled, I have some unsettling news: Think again. And wait until recording companies can figure out a way to charge passers-by for listening to the music coming out of a radio when a car drives down the street with the windows open.
Yeah, happy five billionth, Steve Jobs! I'd send you a musical telegram but the DMR won't allow it to be sung, or even thought about.
-bill kenny

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