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Very good op-ed piece from the New York Times about copy protected CDs....


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Op-Ed Contributor

Buy, Play, Trade, Repeat


Published: December 6, 2005

Los Angeles

THE record company Sony BMG recently got in trouble after attempting to stem piracy by encoding its CD's with software meant to limit how many copies can be made of the discs. It turned out that the copy-protection software exposed consumers' computers to Internet viruses, forcing Sony BMG to recall the CD's.

This technological disaster aside, though, Sony BMG and the other major labels need to face reality: copy-protection software is bad for everyone, consumers, musicians and labels alike. It's much better to have copies of albums on lots of iPods, even if only half of them have been paid for, than to have a few CD's sitting on a shelf and not being played.

The Sony BMG debacle revealed the privacy issues and security risks tied to the spyware that many copy-protection programs install on users' computers. But even if these problems are solved, copy protection is guaranteed to fail because it's a house of cards. No matter how sophisticated the software, it takes only one person to break it, once, and the music is free to roam and multiply on the peer-to-peer file-trading networks.

Meanwhile, music lovers get pushed away. Tech-savvy fans won't go to the trouble of buying a strings-attached record when they can get a better version free. Less Net-knowledgeable fans (those who don't know the simple tricks to get around the copy-protection software or don't use peer-to-peer networks) are punished by discs that often won't load onto their MP3 players (the copy-protection programs are incompatible with Apple's iPods, for example) and sometimes won't even play in their computers.

Conscientious fans, who buy music legally because it's the right thing to do, just get insulted. They've made the choice not to steal their music, and the labels thank them by giving them an inferior product hampered by software that's at best a nuisance, and at worst a security threat.

As for musicians, we are left to wonder how many more people could be listening to our music if it weren't such a hassle, and how many more iPods might have our albums on them if our labels hadn't sabotaged our releases with cumbersome software.

The truth is that the more a record gets listened to, the more successful it is. This is not just our megalomania, it's Marketing 101: the more times a song gets played, the more of a chance it has to catch the ear of someone new. It doesn't do us much good if people buy our records and promptly shelve them; we need them to fall in love with our songs and listen to them over and over. A record that you can't transfer to your iPod is a record you're less likely to listen to, less likely to get obsessed with and less likely to tell your friends about.

Luckily, my band's recently released album, "Oh No," escaped copy control, but only narrowly. When our album came out, our label's parent company, EMI, was testing protective software and thought we were a good candidate for it. Record company executives reasoned that because we appeal to college students who have the high-bandwidth connections necessary for getting access to peer-to-peer networks, we're the kind of band that gets traded instead of bought.

That may be true, but we are also the sort of band that hasn't yet gotten the full attention of MTV and major commercial radio stations, so those college students are our only window onto the world. They are our best chance for success, and we desperately need them to be listening to us, talking about us, coming to our shows and yes, trading us.

To be clear, I certainly don't encourage people to pirate our music. I have poured my life into my band, and after two major label records, our accountants can tell you that we're not real rock stars yet. But before a million people can buy our record, a million people have to hear our music and like it enough to go looking for it. That won't happen without a lot of people playing us for their friends, which, in turn, won't happen without a fair amount of file sharing.

As it happened, for a variety of reasons, our label didn't put copy-protection software on our album. What a shame, though, that so many bands aren't as fortunate.

Damian Kulash Jr. is the lead singer for OK Go.

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