by Mike Shea on 17 August 2006
It dawned on me over the last few days that the end of the RIAA isn't political or revolutionary. Technology put the RIAA into the box they're in and it's technology that will eventually crush them.
What exactly is it that we want from music? I can't speak for everyone but I can speak for myself:
I want music everywhere on many different devices.
I want music for a reasonable cost.
I want music in a format I can transfer, convert, and archive.
I want my music collection to work on every digital machine I own.
I want my music to last the rest of my life.
I want to share my music with my friends. (Yes, I know this is illegal but its still something I want to do, and have done my whole life with shared tapes and borrowed records).
All of this points to mp3s. They're fast, easy to transfer, easily archived, used on most digital audio players, and will likely last as long as I protect them. It also points away from any sort of music encased in digital rights management software (DRM). Much of this music, like the music purchased from iTunes, will only last as long as Apple wants it to last. I can't move it to more than five machines a year. My player has to connect to the net in order to know that I have the rights to play it. I can't easily archive it since I can't have the key. I can't turn it into another format, although, with iTunes, I can burn it to a CD and then re-rip it to mp3.
Here's another thought. There is very little possibility that any RIAA approved music format will be open like mp3. Most likely digital music will be wrapped in DRM. However, there is one form of music that exists now that isn't wrapped in DRM and has no legal issues as far as ripping it to mp3: the music CD. CDs are easily converted to mp3, cheap to buy, and relatively stable as an archival mechanism. As long as CDs exist, I can buy them and rip them to any of my digital players. I can take the songs off of them and archive them onto a hard drive. I can do whatever I want with them.
What about the RIAA and the Internet? I want to share my music with my friends, I don't need to broadcast it to a billion other people. I don't need the internet, I have memory devices.
Very soon memory prices will be so low that I will, within five years, be able to store my entire music and audiobook collection onto a device cheap enough to give to whoever I want. Right now I can burn a 4.7 gig DVD with nearly all of my music and give it to whoever I want. That cost will go down and the memory size will go up. Soon I could send a postage stamp sized memory stick to my friend with all of my music on it and he could do the same with me. Why worry about the internet? How will the RIAA track the transfer of entire collections of music on tiny little memory devices? Screw dark networks, screw anonymous bit torrent. Give me a thumb drive with 25 gigs on it for under $5.
So as long as we still have music CDs and as long as memory prices continue to go down and the sizes go up, the RIAA will still lose control - just like they did when recordable audio tapes came out. The RIAA will lose and I will still have the music I want the way I want it.