They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression. This is advice that the recording industry would have done well to take as, until now, I had never really thought specifically about any one record label. Now I have, and the results are probably not what the label would like.
What brought on this revelation was receiving the new album Think Tank by Blur. The album is put out by the EMI record label, but is not on a CD. Oh it looks like a CD, and, for the most part, it acts like a CD, but if you look the whole thing over, you’ll note that it’s missing that little “Compact Disc Digital Audio” label that all actual CDs have.
Instead it has their new Copy Controlled icon. What this icon essentially means is that you are purchasing digital audio that doesn’t work.
Typically when I get a new CD I like to put it into my computer and rip all the tracks to MP3 format. This makes it easy for me to deal with the music instead of just the CD. It lets me easily set up play-lists in my music player, mix and match the music with other music that I have, move it to our little MP3 player if we want to take the music with us, and, equally important, lets me put away the CD and case so that I have a little less clutter on my desk. Imagine my surprise then, when putting the Blur album into my drive and seeing a little window box popping up telling me that it wanted to install something to let me play the album. Taking a quick look at the sleeve I noticed that it said it was copy-controlled and assumed it would simply be adding some registration information or something like that so that record labels could track what computer the songs came from if I were to upload them to the internet.
Instead, it installed its own little player to play the album. This little player is, quite simply, pathetic. It cannot be used to make a play-list of any sort, which means that I cannot re-order the tracks, skip the ones I don’t want to hear, repeat the ones I like, or add any other music that is already on my computer to the mix. Naturally it won’t record any of the music to my computer at all either.
Wanting to know a little more about what was going on, I did some searching on the internet, and came up with EMI’s Copy Controlled FAQ list (http://www.emimusic.com.au/faqs_copy_control.asp). One of the more blatant lies on that page is question number four, which reads:
“Does the Copy Control technology cause any degradation in sound quality?
We would not endorse anything that would damage the quality of our artistsÂ´ music. Our providers are testing continually to secure best audio/video quality.”
The group Blur, for those of you who might be unaware, write techno and electronic music. Like many electronic groups before them, they have made this latest album in a “seamless” style, which means that each track blends directly into the next with no breaks between songs. The copy-controlled player, however, automatically inserts a small break between every track. This is jarring to say the least, as the music gives no hint of ending then suddenly pauses for a second before beginning again. To say that this does not damage the quality of the artists’ music is simply ludicrous.
What is worse, however, is that the Copy Control does not even work that well. When attempting to show my wife what has happened, she found no difficulties at all in having her regular music player read the album and was even able to rip the tracks onto the computer, taking the exact same steps that I did. When I later put the album into my computer a third time, I found that in one drive the album would be recognized by my music player (though strangely, it was unable to actually produce sound) while in the other it caused a minor lock-up of my system. Of course, once the MP3s are recorded, there is nothing to prevent sharing them across the internet or burning new CDs with them. Even if my wife had been unable to rip the tracks, the copy control still could have been avoided with the simple use of a patch cord from a CD player to the back of my computer, and recording the audio tracks directly to my hard-drive. Once there, I could easily convert them to MP3 format. EMI’s FAQ even acknowledges that the copy control technology only prevents (sometimes) direct digital copying. They seem not to realize that it only takes one copy to be made for the music to spread all over the internet. Indeed, a quick search of the peer-to-peer network Shareaza showed me that I could already download the entire album if I wanted to. This of course means that buying these Copy Controlled albums will simply wind up costing me more money to pay for a technology that is a hassle for me, and does not work for the labels using it. The only people who really profit are the shysters who are selling the technology.
Further, this technology specifically goes against the spirit of legislation in Canada. The CPCC or Canadian Private Copying Collective (http://www.cpcc.ca/) have lobbied the federal government and succeeded in getting legislation passed that imposes levies on blank, recordable CDs and cassettes, to combat the effects of piracy. (A warning, if you go to their site, you will find none of the links work. Simply add the “www” to the beginning of any link that you wish to go to. Apparently for a group concerned about the uses of technology, they have little idea how to use it themselves.)
Because of these levies, however, it is acknowledged that it is perfectly legal for Canadian consumers to copy music for their own personal use. (It is still illegal to upload it to the general internet – as that does not fall under personal use). This Copy Controlled technology prevents that. In essence, Canadian Consumers are now paying an extra levy for absolutely nothing. It seems reasonable to suggest that if Canadians are going to pay a levy on blank media, they should be able to actually use that media for what the levy is intended to compensate for. On the other hand, if record labels have taken steps to prevent Canadians from exercising their rights, they should be refunding the money that they take as compensation for this exercise.
So, EMI has made their first impression on me. And, true to the adage, they will not be getting a second chance as I won’t be purchasing more music from them.
The Compact Disc Digital Audio Logo is a trademark of Phillips and Sony
The Copy Controlled Logo is a trademark of the IFPI (http://www.ifpi.org/site-content/press/20020917.html)