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on secure music

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When I read about the attempts to secure digital content in the USA, using legal or technical means, I’m reminded of images of dinosaurs in their death throes in some Jurassic swamp, struggling to stand up while hundreds of agile insects and mammals tear chunks out of their flesh. The conclusion I’ve come to is simple: it’s not feasible to truly secure digital content, whether audio or video. In both cases, the signal must come out into the analogue world at some point, since we are analogue creatures.

At that point it is vulnerable to copying, regardless of what was done digitally – it’s that simple. Even if, for example, a secure digital flat panel is used, so that the signal is not accessible until then, how hard is it to set up a camcorder pointing at the screen? That’s the approach used by the ‘Net pirates when grabbing copies of newly-released movies – set up a camcorder in the cinema! The same applies to audio, even if it means tapping the signal at the loudspeakers. In a real component hi-fi system, discrete analogue signals are always available, anyway.

Does Senator Hollings, or any of his media industry cronies, really expect that they will be able to control all digital media recording and playback, throughout the world? Try telling a company like Linn, or their more esoteric competitors, that they have to compromise their hi-fi hardware to accommodate an American law!

I am happy to pay for music I like and support the musicians, but I generally refuse to pay new CD prices to major labels, especially when it comes to back catalogue. The artists rarely see any revenue from back catalogue sales, unless they have made special arrangements or taken control, as e.g. King Crimson have. Distribution of physical CDs today involves many fixed costs, such as printing & pressing, transport, management of record stores and their staff, and customer service. Most of those can be eliminated by Internet distribution of music, and people know this. If I am to start downloading legitimate music, it should be a) 1/10 the cost of the equivalent CD release, and b) unencumbered.

By “unencumbered” I mean that there should be no limitations on what I do with it – not restricted to particular hardware or software, I must be able to burn it to CD in CD-Audio or MP3 format, as I choose. There must also be no expectations of me in terms of advertising or marketing – that is, I will not allow legitimate audio downloads to turn me into a target market. The fact that I did so would mean nothing more than that, and would not mean that I want to see advertisements for similar or related products, or any advertisements at all, or any other form of marketing. I should be able to enjoy music as it is created by the musicians, without divulging personal information to the record company.

The only secure music is silence.

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Written by brian t

August 17, 2006 at 6:43 pm

One Response

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  1. […] A couple of years ago I wrote an essay on secure music, about my attitude towards music downloading, and last night on CNBC a music industry representative was asked why it was still so expensive – which it is, in my opinion. He tried to explain the pricing in terms of a shift away from albums back towards individual tracks. I’m not buying that, and I wrote a little more on the topic, enough to deserve a page of its own: see albums vs. singles. […]

    stereoroid.com » yeastish

    August 17, 2006 at 6:48 pm


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