Music Formats And The Death Of Ownership

By | December 11, 2003

One thing I still don’t quite get is how online music will work in the long run — who will own it? What will happen to it if the company you bought the songs from goes bust? And what happens if you’re not near an Internet connection?

None of these issues seem any clearer with the announcement by the world’s largest software and music companies, who on Wednesday, according to Reuters (via Techdirt), issued an initial set of technology specifications in a bid to create a system in which users would share customized Internet links, called “content references,” instead of swapping song or film files directly.

From what I understand this would be like accessing a file on the Internet via hyperlinks — basically how you use your browser now — for which you would pay, either by subscription, or each time you listened to it, or whatever. I know it’s a knee jerk reaction but to me this all sounds dumb.

A subscription approach may work for certain products — movies, say, which folk may only want to watch once — but music is a movable feast. We want to listen to it on the road, in the gym, in the bath, at the top of a mountain, on a long air/road/boat/train ride. Music, almost by definition, is not a static product. What’s more, clearly this new approach is designed to squeeze more money out of the punter. For what? Do we actually end up owning the music, getting great sleeve notes, a product with lots of memories attached to it? Almost certainly not. It’s a dripfeed revenue model, where we pay cents, thinking we’re saving dollars, whereas all we’re doing is paying a toll for something that once upon a time we could actually buy and keep. Or am I overreacting?

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