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A Matter of Trust

Introduction by Justin Cober-Lake - PopMatters writers take a look at the new technology and techniques designed to prevent you from copying the music on your CDs. Is it fair? Is it right?

Recent developments in technology have made an amazing amount of legal, illegal, and questionable activities possible for music fans. As always, the new technology has been liberating to some, frightening to others, and confusing to nearly all. As the music industry, consumers, lawyers, and just about everyone else grapple with the new abilities to copy, send, and work with music, record labels are putting out an increasing number of CDs containing technology to limit access to the music. Amid the lawsuits, piracy, and debate, PopMatters thought it was time to chime in. Here we present views from an analytical specialist, a frustrated writer/consumer, and a pissed-off whore.

As music critics, we’ve come across nearly every method yet thought of, from discs that won’t play on computers, to artists speaking over their own songs, to legal threats from record companies. I once received an unsolicited CD that came with several requests from the label. First, the label asked me (in legal terms, said that by opening the envelope, I had agreed to certain conditions) not to play the disc on a computer. Then, I was asked not to play it where anyone else could hear it. So, given that I can’t play it in my study where I write, or in the living room where others would hear, I did the only suitable thing and didn’t listen at all. But odd requests from labels are one thing; having technology that prevents full use of a CD you buy is another, and that’s more to the point of what we’re concerned with in this section.

Richard Meltzer thought pretty much all music critics were whores, and I won’t deny enjoying the freebies. Terry Sawyer takes a look at the relationship between labels and writers, and the changing (developing?) conditions. New concerns about copyright are changing what record companies expect, demand, and enforce on writers. In, well, pretty clear language, he lets us know what he thinks about the situation. It’s a strange situation, and one that sends its ripples throughout the music world.

Before you think this section is about music writers complaining about their freebies, Andrew Gilstrap writes as a consumer. After his computer had been hijacked, he’d had enough, and he wants record companies to know exactly what they’re doing to consumers. By using annoying—or even insidious—programming on their products, labels harm the already strained relationship with their customer base. Gilstrap acknowledges that musicians should be paid for their art; he just wants a less troubling, more honest process.

To start us off, though, we wanted a more restrained look from the other side of the debate (or at least the middle ground), so we asked Sam Mamudi, an expert in copyright issues and digital rights management, to provide his input. Through his investigations into the matter and conversations with legal specialists, he gets at the heart of the paradigm gap between labels and consumers. While acknowledging the complications of the copyright technology, he also sees that it could be used to strike a balance between maintaining artistic ownership and allowing fair use.

Whatever our roles might be—consumer, whore, lawyer, label, etc.—in the end, most of us are just fans trying to listen to music, and that’s why our concerns are so important. I know it’s a bit naïve for me to feel this way, but it’s frustrating when commercial and legal complications interfere with my true enjoyment of one of my great passions. I want the artists to make a living (see any of my recent credit card statements for proof), but I want to keep the experience as pure as possible. Everyone has a stake in copyright issues and digital rights management issues, and we need to find a way to get through these concerns. So here’s PopMatters’ offering toward that conversation.

   — Justin Cober-Lake, PopMatters Music Special Sections Editor

Friday, March 11 2005

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