War clouds gathering (again)…

Updated: Dec 31, 2019

Many of the current generation of Internet users may not remember the original network called Napster. It was envisioned as a basic peer-to-peer file sharing network. It wasn’t unique in any way; there were other such networks before it. But Napster caught the imagination of users when it (somehow) focussed on MP3s. Users could now locate individuals who had music and were willing to share it. Napster didn’t charge for this service nor did it host any of the content. But Napster lasted all of 2 years. A court order shut it down in July 2001. The villains were music companies who claimed the service was engaged in copyright infringement. At its peak Napster had 80 million registered users. In the context of the total number of Internet users at that time, it probably constituted 90% or more.

There is another (similar) idea that is now gathering attention and the usual villains are also back! There is a not-too-familiar service called ReDigi that has a simple offering. It offers to store and allow users to re-sell legally purchased digital assets such as music. Capitol Records in the US has filed and won a preliminary round against ReDigi.

The issue here is different from that of Napster and yes it is beginning to bother me.

If I purchase a music CD, listen to it for a few days, months, years, I have the right to re-sell it. Amazon, eBay are filled with such offers. But when it comes to a legally purchased MP3 track, I am being told, I don’t have the same right. I don’t get it. The simplicity of the premise is being complicated by safe-guards originally provided in copyright protection laws. One of them states (sic) Copyright is infringed if music embedded in one media, is transferred to another media. By this definition I cannot import my music into iTunes, I cannot play it on my iPod or iPhone or any other non-CD device. And yet I do all of these AND no one is suing me AND this sort of use is only growing. By the way, I can store my music on my own iCloud space, I can store it in another Cloud, I can save it in my back-up drive and I can store it on the moon if I have access to it (and can afford it)! But I am led to believe I can’t store it on ReDigi and worse still, I cannot resell it like I can sell any other used commodity on this planet.

I don’t get it!

I understand digital files make my life simple but is this simplicity being offset by a violation of my fundamental right as a consumer? Why are music companies threatened by ReDigi? Why are publishers (of all types) watching this case closely? There are complexities that threaten the very basis of making content delivery simple, I accept that. But is restricting fundamental rights the only way forward? I don’t think so. I don’t believe I have the answers and I certainly don’t want to add to the complexity. But I do want to raise questions and engage in debate. I have repeatedly said we (publishers) need to be partners with our content creators and content users. We cannot remain gatekeepers for content; we need to evolve and become pathways connecting creators and users.

I don’t know what happens to ReDigi or what happens to Capitol Records. But I do know that the question this case raises effects a larger universe of issues. I don’t think I am qualified to provide solutions but I certainly want to know what happens and follow every discussion that takes place.

This issue affects me.

#digitalassets #Napster #ReDigi

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© 2020 Vivek Mehra