Monday, March 28, 2011

Pay for Play

It's about time.

Four years ago, the producers who discovered Eminem sued his record label, the Universal Music Group, over the way royalties are computed for digital music, which boils down to whether an individual song sold online should be considered a license or a sale. The difference is far from academic because, as with most artists, Eminem’s contract stipulates that he gets 50 percent of the royalties for a license but only 12 percent for a sale.


The suit reached its apparent end last week when the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, letting stand a lower court’s decision that digital music should be treated as a license. Lawyers and music executives say that few younger artists are likely to be affected by the decision because since the early 2000s record companies have revised most of their contracts to include digital sales among an artist’s record royalties. Eminem’s first contract was signed in 1995.

Many older artists, however, whose contracts predate digital music and have not been renegotiated, stand to profit significantly from the decision.

Limiting payments to artists, assuming it ever made much sense, only did so in a world where record companies had expenses: you know, production and publicity and the creation of a physical product that has to be manufactured and stored and shipped.

We don't live in that world anymore. Paying someone half for being a conduit for your bytes even seems a little outrageous.

And as anyone who has ever tried to transfer iTunes from an ailing computer to a new device knows well, consumers do not actually own that music: DRM means we're just renting it for a while on the company's terms. Definitely a license, not a sale.

But at least this is a gesture toward a more equitable pay structure for artists.


cthulhu said...

FYI - iTunes Music Store hasn't used DRM in a few years; maybe you have stuff you need to convert.

NYMary said...

Cthulu, I thought they had discussed dropping it but hadn't. In any case, I frequently run into the messages "this device not authorized to play this song" or "this song has been downloaded to the maximum number of allowed devices"--and yes, I wouldn't be here if I weren't listening to the same music I was listening to five years ago, so there. ;p

Is there a workaround?

Mike said...

The older music files have limits to how often they can be burned to disc and how many devices on which they can be played. If you haven't hit the former yet, burn things to CD then re-rip them back in iTunes (or your whatever your favorite player may be).

Really, I'm surprise they didn't impose a limit on how often the songs could be played.

Anonymous said...

So, when this happens to you, open the file in an audio editing program, delete the first and last half seconds then amplify the volume by 10%/. Next, save the file under a new name and in the process edit any internal information, wiping the comments section. Its easy and its now clean. It will play on anything and you've cleaned the anti-ware from the track.

Anonymous said...

Audacity 1.3 is a free audio editing program. Google it and have fun. With a little practice you'll be able to visually see the anti-ware coded into the audio graph's start and end and the process will become child's play. The anti-ware looks like little, nonsense ripples at the start of the track and has no sound when highlighted and play solo. Remove that and listen to the song's start. If the song starts on the beat and there is no distorted hiss you've gotten it all. If you hear a distorted hiss or a crackle, remove a little more. Its easy.

cthulhu said...

NYMary, when the iTMS went DRM-free a few years ago, they offered a process where you could "upgrade" your existing DRM-affected content to DRM-free for something like $0.20 per song. As part of this, you got the upgrade to 256 kbps AAC instead of the original 128 kbps AAC format. I don't know if they still allow this or not.

salhepatica said...

@cthulhu: They do, for 30 cents a song. However, the iTunes store occasionally loses the rights to sell particular songs, and when you follow the procedure for doing the upgrades, you may not be able to upgrade absolutely everything you bought in the dark years of DRM. And if you happened to download a song for free with DRM, you're stuck with it under all circumstances.