On Ripping CDs

Yes, you can buy a CD and “rip” or copy the files quite easily. Apple’s iTunes, bundled with every Mac, and available for free downloading, is designed to make ripping and burning easy—and it does. There are similar applications for just about any personal computer operating system.Yes, people do that”rip” files all the time. Yes, some people put those files on the Internet and others download them.

The operative word there is “some.” I’ve never posted an illegal mp3 file on the ‘net. I do have an iPod though, and it contains MP3s of about 60 CDs that I purchased. Given that there are other real world models for this activity in that you can photocopy a book you own for personal use—it’s the distribution of that copy that’s a problem—it’s pretty daft to argue that users shouldn’t be able to make digital copies for personal use of cds they own—just as they can make casettes of vinyl albums (remember records?) or other personal use copies.

During Napster’s thriving period CD sales went up. It’s possible that Napster actually drove CD sales. Sales have dropped—for both concert tickets and CDs—post Napster. People downloaded a song they liked, often discovering new artists, then bought the CD. Humans are acquisitive by nature. We like bright shiny objects, and want to own them in a physical form. Moroever, by enhancing the data with an attractive cover and liner notes, not to mention the benefits of enhanced CDs, CD producers are giving the physical object added value—making us want them even more. If they had a clue, the RIAA could drive sales by making it easy to legally obtain MP3 files—and pay the artists involved.

Given how many hours I spend working in front of computers, I darn well want to be able to either listen to MP3’s on my iPod or play a cd in my CD-ROM drive—both things the RIAA doesn’t want me to do. And, at the same time Eisner and others are complaining to Senator Hollings about consumers “stealing” from them, the RIAA is not paying the artists. I think Tim O’Reilly was being too polite when he described them as being disingenuous. It’s worth reading the thoughts of Andy Grove, someone who understands profit and technology, as well as the need for innovation. If publishers want to sell more, maybe they should find out what consumers want.