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Do you own songs bought online? Well, sort of

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In a recent article on Reuters, the author points out the limitations companies like Apple place on your online music downloads. Issues like limitation to Apple iPods, multiple computer use rights and CD burning.

Before people erroneously get the impression this issue is limited to Apple, there are a few points to consider:

You don’t own the songs on CD or the movies on DVD that you purchase from anywhere. You are purchasing the physical plastic disc and the Limited Right to listen to or watch but NOT reproduce what is recorded on it. In some cases, you are granted the right to make a single, personal, non-commercial backup/archival copy.

You’ve never been able to freely copy your vinyl, 8 tracks, cassettes or CDs for any purpose. The issue is that with digital products, publishers have more technical ability to make you obey the law.

This is also true of any books, photographs or paintings you buy. You are purchasing the paper they are printed on or the canvas and paint, but you are not purchasing the rights to reproduce them in any form beyond limited non-commercial Fair Use.

Microsoft WMA is another popular audio format. However, WMA files do not play on all (most) devices either and you have limited ability and rights on duplicating or burning copies of these songs.

Real Networks (the Real Audio people) also made a big public stink about their songs not playing on iPods. Interestingly enough, though, is that if a manufacturer doesn’t pay Real Networks a licensing fee, your songs from Real won’t play on that device. Creative’s music players, for instance, cannot play Real’s songs. Real has similar, but slightly more restrictive, backup/burning limitations than Apple.

Napster offers a flat monthly fee service for all the music you want to download. Miss a payment or cancel your account and all of your music will stop working. Want to put those songs on your portable player? Most don’t support them, but you’d have to pay Napster $5 per month for the privilege. If you want to burn a song to a CD, you’ll have to pay Napster 99 cents more.

I think a lot of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) issues are counter-productive. They have been statistically shown to not influence the behaviour of people who will copy music and not pay for it. Research has also shown that people who download or copy music are much more likely to purchase that music legally than any other music user. Simply put, downloaders buy more legal music than you do (generally, a lot more). None of this changes the fact that companies like Apple are legally following the rules our lawmakers created. If you want to complain about Apple’s DRM (or any music label or movie studio), the real target should be our country’s outdated and outmoded Intellectual Property laws of copyright, trademark and patent.

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