Wednesday, November 16, 2011

RIP the war on customers

Fair warning that this post is a bit of a rant against the restrictions that make legal downloading music not just painful but sometimes impossible. I promise that next post will be about the actual music.

So far I have described music I have purchased as physical CD's. This is the bulk of my collection and the way I usually prefer to operate. I end up with the music on my computer at home. From there I can play it anywhere in my house or download it to an iPod or other music player. This also lets me select what format and quality to use for the music storage and I have the CD for backup if necessary.

There is of course now the option of downloading music directly.

To be clear I'm only talking about legal purchasing and downloading of music. I don't condone or encourage illegal file-sharing or downloading from any dodgy sites. I'm not OK with downloading without paying. In fact in my collection I have albums which I have paid for up to 5 times:-
  • Actual Vinynal  album purchased twice because the original was lost, scratched, borrowed forever etc.
  • Then purchased the CD
  • Then purchased the High Definition DVD version
  • Then purchased a high definition download (more of this later)
So no Rock Star's children or record company lawyers are going without anything because of me.

However if anybody did illegally download any digital content (music. movies etc.) I can totally understand why, and the industries concerned are only making this a more attractive option.

On of the sites I had previously used for purchasing music was for a while this was a great site. For a small monthly subscription I could download a set number of tracks from their catalog of independent labels. There was nothing top 40 or even remotely current but that suited my purpose fine. There was music from all around the world, re-recordings of ancient hit by the original artists and more. All with no DRM restrictions and at a price per track that made experimenting on something new a risk worth taking. There was an excellent referral system to highlight other artists recommended or purchased by other users and it was a great way to find new and interesting music.

Then things started to change. Prices increased and then doubled again. All as a result of a deal with one of the majors to publish their back catalog (not current hits just old albums) This change of tack may have been justified for and may still even have interested me. Except that as a non US member of the site I was barred from downloading any of this new (old) material. So my monthly fee had nearly tripled and I was not getting anything for that fee increase. Emails were exchanged but it was clear that was happy to loose my business.

Now they don't accept customers from outside the US but they were at the time prepared to let me continue paying the higher fee for less product indefinitely.

I'm not happy with for their decision but my real issue is with the industry that continues to try an enforce restrictive copyright rules that were developed in the steam age in today's digital society. it is worth repeating once more. I want to pay for the music. The record companies won't let me.

The power of the industry extends to the political realm where they constantly lobby for ever more restrictive laws. Free trade agreements are unfortunately Orwellian in that they contain thousands of pages of exceptions make more things exempt from free trade than are actually free. These same agreements then mandate the enforcement of the restrictive rules on content licensing that frustrate legitimate customers.

If anybody thinks these rules are in the best interests of artists, customers or ultimately of the publishers they should look again at the take of King Canute.

It is not just one small site that is affected by these restrictions. I'm constantly bombarded by Emails from telling me I've earned a bonus mp3 download, only to be block at the final stage when I attempt to download the file. For some reason Amazon can tell the restrictions apply when I try to order the song but not when they send me the offer. Numerous Emails over several years to their customer service have proved they also don't care about infuriating paying customers.

Blogs and mews sites with embedded video often refuse to play.

There is a site I have been using and recommending for purchasing high-definition (better than CD quality) digital downloads

They have a great product which I'm happy to pay for. Again the non-US restrictions apply. As far as I'm aware there is no other site where I can legally buy these high definition downloads.

Complaining to the websites is not a productive use of anybody's time. Complaining to the record companies is even worse. The only possibility for change is to lobby the lawmakers, which I encourage you to do, Often.

Some people will instead seek out alternative websites for downloads..

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