Friday, January 13, 2006

Protected Species

Yesterday evening we had a babysitter, so Kriszti and me went out to see a movie. The mall where the Cinema City is located also has one of city's biggest bookstores that also keeps CDs. I remembered that I decided to look for the new Gorillaz album, "Demon Days" as I heard few tracks already, I read positive critical acclaim, so all-in-all it looked like it's worth risking the money on it. At first, I don't find it on the display racks, but notice there's the new album from Black Eyed Peas, "Monkey Business". Having heard two tracks from it on the radio already and liking them, I decide I might buy it if I don't find what I came for originally. The CD also lacks any indication of being DRM-crippled, so all is well. A little while later, I find the Gorillaz CD as well.

There's a problem, though. It's inscribed with "This CD contains copy control mechanism" (in plain English "we crippled this CD as a futile attempt to prevent it from being copied is much more important to us than your convenience, dear customer") Uh-oh. I know I import all my CDs into iTunes and listen to them there, so with that in mind, let's inspect it a little bit closer. The information on the jewel case claims that the DRM is compatible with Mac OS X. Double uh-oh. If it were ignorant of Mac OS X, then I'd only need to overcome my sense of ethics to buy it, but since it claims to be actually aware of Mac OS X, it could pose some real danger to my system and damn if I ignore my sense of security - I depend on that computer for earning my living.

I walk over to the cashier and ask the lady:

- "This CD has copy protection. If I have problems playing it, will you take it back?"

She tries to dismiss my concerns: - "Oh, that only means you can not copy it to a blank disc!"

Yeah, sure, but I have other concerns: - "But it is also printed on the back that it may not play correctly in some players. If it won't play correctly in mine, will you take it back?"

She's again a bit naive: - "It plays fine everywhere, except maybe in some computers!"

Well, that's where I want to play it, so I'm pressing the point: - "Will you take it back if I can't play it?"

She finally gives me a very good advice: - "Sir, I suggest you'd better not buy it if you have concerns."

I remember my first encounter with a crippled CD - it was Chris Rea's "Stony Road" back few years ago. I spotted it at my boss' desk one day and borrowed it, but then struggled with playing it through the work PC's CD-ROM drive. It made the machine lock up. It made the CD-ROM drive emit all kinds of scary noises. It was a definite hazard to the machine and my work environment.

With that memory recalled, I decided I'll listen to cashier lady's advice and there'll be no Gorillaz for me. I don't buy shoddy merchandise. None of my money to them. No matter how much effort went into the production of the content and how brilliant it turned out, if it's accompanied by a copy protection measure that radiates the message "dear consumer, we assume you might be a thief", it reduces its appeal to me to zero. I'm listening to my new Black Eyed Peas album right now, though. Ironically enoughm, when I told the story to a youngster friend of mine today, he instantly offered to look up the Gorillaz album in MP3 on his college's campus network :-). I declined though. I don't need that music so bad that I'd be willing to either obtain it illegally, or succumb to a DRM scheme (whichever is worse). Every single song I have in my iTunes at the moment is imported from a CD I bought, and I will keep it this way.

Moral of the story: they lost a customer due to a CD-crippling scheme that does nothing to protect their content, since it seems to be very easily obtainable illegally. I remember about a year ago Faithless also lost a sale as I didn't buy "No Roots" because it, too, was released as a crippled CD. I wrote to the band, and got a response from their manager expressing how they are not pleased with DRM either, but the publisher forces it on them. Too bad guys.

I'll keep buying discs conforming to CD Digital Audio standard. I'll keep not buying shiny plastic discs that contain random bits of data that might or might not be playable, and that might attack my computer systems if coming into physical contact with them. At the moment, there's still enough good music available on non-crippled CDs out there. I hope it stays this way.

1 comment:

Cs said...

This is a really important issue you write about. Half of my blog is about this. I am very glad you didn't buy the crippled CD, because I'm still afraid that most people don't care or don't even know about the "copy protection".

Music publishing is an industry, it is hard-core business and it has nothing to do with music or art. It uses all the nasty tricks we are used to in the business world.

Also, it is good to know that most of the price of a CD goes to the publisher, not to the artist.