Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hypothetical: Pay For One, But Take Another

I'm on a large listserv that is haunted by a wide range of professionals and artists that discuss many of the issues and opportunities that currently present themselves to the digital media market. I started a thread last week that simply posed the following hypothetical:

Someone pays a subscription music service for their "to-go" plan in perpetuity ($15/month for life) but instead of downloading any of the DRM'd content from that service they "acquire" DRMless MP3 versions of the same songs.

Is this deemed "illegal"? They are paying the labels their per month minimums which in turn are paid out to the rights holders (assuming the user is only acquiring content that is also licensed to the subscription provider they are paying) - and since they are paying in perpetuity then the issue of "owning" versus "renting" (and the 30-day licenses) is a non-issue.

The logic (albeit many see as flawed) being that if you pay the monthly subscription fees in perpetuity (basically "renting" it for life), than theoretically the artists and labels end up making far more than they do off a one-time sale of the track. Therefore, if someone pays Rhapsody their $15/month for the rest of their life for the right to listen to a track - but then go and "steal" those tracks from somewhere else - the net net is a positive for the labels and artists. This is the "music as a utility" (some say "tax") argument that the industry has yet to embrace, although their could be grassroots movement of consumers just paying these subscription services (using them as little more than a collection agency) then going off and "acquire" all the tracks they can find off of MP3 blogs, P2P networks, etc. with a clear conscience in knowing that the rights holders are still be remunerated.

The fact is, I know *many* people that discover and listen to new music from MP3 blogs and/or The Hype Machine that also happen to subscribe to services. They find the stuff on the blogs, they listen to it there. If they like it, their choice is to either:

A). Download it directly from there
B). Copy the artist/song info, go to the store of choice (potentially
launching a big heavy media player), log in and buy it. Perish the thought
that they find *lots* of songs they want to buy. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

The bottom line is that in the current digital music legal and business framework it is easier to steal than to buy legally.

This thread has been active for almost a week now and spun into a very lively debate that has started to cover much larger topics that I originally intended (which is great). But to boil it back down to the original question and the more relevant follow up of... Would you feel morally comfortable with this scenario?


Autor: Ryan Rauscher said...


if I interpret your scenario correctly, you say that rightsholders are compensated, even if you get their songs from other sources than the subsription service, right?

I thought those subscription services pay out the labels depending on how many downloads they have in that service. If that is right, then the labels and artists won´t participate from you getting their songs from a different source, at least as long as the subscription service doesn´t track that - which is most likely.

Have I missed anything? Or what would your solution be?

Greets, Ryan

J said...

Ryan -

Yeah, you have quickly zeroed in on the issue - tracking usage/downloads and the corresponding compensation to the *proper* artists.

What I was trying to gauge is... as a consumer do you care? Or is it "not my problem"? The consensus that I have seen is that everyone agrees that they current systems are broken - but the consumers aren't capable of fixing it. My own gut reaction as a consumer is generally .... "I'm paying for the ability to download and listen to virtually anything in perpetuity, therefore I have fulfilled my half of the commerce contract. If you (the labels) can't figure out how to properly distribute the money I have paid for such right, that's not my problem."

Now, as someone that knows more about how the system than the average bear - I realize (and have been shown) the flaws in that logic.

But do average consumers care? Or is such an action just making the problem worse by continuing to feed the rich when it is the poor that deserve to eat?

jChris said...

I've been wondering the same thing for myself, although in my case it is that I know have the CD somewhere in the basement, but it is just easier to listen to the music on Grabb.it. I know the answer the labels want to hear - every different channel/use has its price (so let's maximize revenue.)

But I think normal people just want to listen to music, and given the chance to feel good about, they'd rather.

Any chance you can link to the mailing list?

swinter said...

Didn't a lot of consumers feel comfortable buying mp3's from allofmp3.com, knowing full well that the artists weren't being compensated? Doesn't that show the moral/ethical fiber that the masses are made of?

shawn said...

Oops, swinter is me.

J said...

Shawn - great point.

jchris - Check out http://www.onehouse.com/pho.htm