Last week, I bought a few music CDs. Like, CDs with music already on them. And not MP3s. I know, totally old school, but I’m an old school kind of guy. Anyway, a couple of them were from a band called A Perfect Circle which features Maynard James Keenan, the lead singer of Tool. I had never heard any music by this band, but I like Tool and Keenan has a distinctive and strong voice so I took a chance. But the band isn’t what this is about.
The CDs I got were their first and second albums Mer de Noms and Thirteenth Step. On the back of the Thirteenth Step CD case, it says “Copy Controlled”, which I assumed was some technology to prevent people from making copies of the disk. It never occurred to me that this would prevent the tracks on the disk from being ripped by programs like iTunes, because everyone uses iTunes or Windows Media Player or something like that, right? I mean, considering the number of iPods and other MP3 players out there (recent surveys say there are approximately 4.23 gazillion of them), no record company in their right mind would knowingly put technology on an audio CD that prevented it from being imported into iTunes. Would they? Yes. Yes, they would.
(Note that I’m giving the record companies the benefit of the doubt here. It’s possible that they’ve done this so that people who wanted MP3 copies would be forced to buy the album twice. I’m going to assume that the copy protection is there solely to prevent piracy and not as a way to rip off consumers.)
Neither iTunes nor Windows Media Player can read the disk at all. I can’t even play the disk on my computer. So now I have an audio CD that I legally own and yet I cannot listen to it on my computer or iPod. If I’m in the car, I could use the CD there (if it works on that player), but that means either leaving it in the car all the time or deciding in advance what music I’m going to listen to when driving. That’s a pain, and avoiding that is the reason I bought an iPod in the first place. I sometimes listen to music at work through my iPod, but this album would be unavailable. The other A Perfect Circle album rips and plays fine. Keenan’s voice is obviously a big part of it, but the songs are shorter than Tool, and a little more mainstream. There is far less ambient stuff – one of the songs on Undertow (a Tool album I also bought) (and successfully ripped) contains almost ten minutes of near-silence. But the band isn’t what this is about.
So what are my alternatives? I’ve searched the internet and have found some instructions on how to rip such CDs, so I may try one of those. I could just buy the album digitally, but that means paying for it twice and since I haven’t even been able to listen to it yet, I’m a little reluctant to pay again. But there’s another alternative.
I could steal it.
I could probably search the internet and find an illegal copy of the album someplace and download it in ten minutes. Make no mistake, I realize that this is theft, but I already paid for the album, so the band / record company is not really losing out on anything if I download it. At least, I could use that logic to justify it to myself. But I’m not a music pirate.
I work in the software industry. The software package I work on is not a huge piracy target, but the concept is clear – people downloading SQL Anywhere and not paying for it are stealing from my company. Similarly, downloading A Perfect Circle would be stealing from the record company and, indirectly, the band members themselves.
I’m also a little gun-shy. A few years ago, I downloaded some torrents of TV shows (just episodes I missed of CSI or something from network TV, not PPV or anything), and I got an email from my ISP saying “we’ve been told that you’re downloading copyrighted material. You’d better stop.” I did stop, and so if I decide to look for A Perfect Circle’s album online, I’m a little concerned that I’ll get caught and they’ll cut off my internet.
So integrity and fear means that I probably won’t steal it. If the methods I’ve found of ripping the CD don’t work, I’ll probably just buy the damn thing online. I’ll grumble and I’ll complain, but I’ll fork over the $10. And I’ll probably buy their third album as well. But the thought of downloading a pirated copy of the album did cross my mind, and not just for a few seconds. I seriously considered it.
The record industry is trying to prevent piracy, but the method they’ve chosen (this type of copy protection) is making a non-pirate like me consider stealing the album. They have taken a law-abiding citizen who is against piracy and turned him into a potential criminal.
Talk about unintended consequences.