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Universal Accuses You

I’ve been doing some reading about and its grand saga.

Not apprised? Based in Moscow, is just like Apple’s iTunes store, except songs cost around $0.15 instead of $0.99 and the number of computers and iPods on which you use them—and the number of discs you burn with them—is unrestricted. Some Cirque de Soleil style legal acrobatics were required to make it happen. As a result of lobbyist pressure, America has made the shutting down of the company a prerequisite to Russian accession to the World Trade Organization. But the site remains up, remains popular, and remains firmly under the skin of a recording industry desperate to upend music by converting it from an owned artifact to a piece of licensed code.

That reading led me to this incredible story from “Universal ‘negotiating with Apple on iPod tax’.”

After securing a deal with Microsoft to take a small cut of every Zune sold, reportedly as a buffer against royalties lost to piracy, Universal is hoping it can secure the same deal with Apple.

It’s thought the record label receives $1 for each of the $250 Microsoft music players sold. Universal CEO Doug Morris said at the Reuters Media Summit he believes there’s room for a similar accord with the iPod maker, according to Reuters.

“It would be a nice idea. We have a negotiation coming up not too far. I don’t see why we wouldn’t do that… but maybe not in the same way,” he said.

Even if you are not a music thief—even if you shuffle to your local olde recorde shoppe and purchase actual discs—you are paying a fine because Universal has assumed you purchased your Zune or your iPod to commit a crime. So a penalty has been built into the prices of these devices.

It all seems a little outrageous to me: An entire gang of megalomaniacal companies obsessed with extracting money from products which clearly have decreasing value. An entire herd of lawyers tasked with using the law to allow a few big players to turn lead into gold. Of course, what they are doing is wholly within their rights. But they are doing a disservice to musicians and to the music-consuming public. It is important to recognize these tactics—like Sony’s rootkit scandal and Universal’s prejudicial fine—for what they are: desperate life-saving measures. No matter how many little pieces of technological innovation the record companies successfully crush, the winds of change are against them. The Internet, this global network, is nothing if not a slayer of middlemen. And record companies are some of history’s most corrupt middlemen, erecting barricade after barricade to prevent consumers and musicians from talking—from negotiating.

I don’t imagine a renegade illegal service like Napster or will do the trick. Instead, musicians will simply become successful without one of the big three behind them. I imagine that will be the beginning of the end for this anti-consumer crusade.


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