A Rotten Core: RIAA vs. Apple

The company that introduced Ellen Feiss to the world, Apple, became, within one week’s time, the largest on-line music retailer. Just days after the introduction of the 99-cent iTunes Music Store, Apple has had a reported one million purchases. What is all the more remarkable about this is that Apple represents only about 5% of the PC market and is perennially considered to be on the brink of corporate oblivion. But sticking with the method that the company started with—providing innovative products for people who care about innovative products—it has proven, once again, that better really is better and that people—some people—do care about quality, whether it is in product or process (which the iTunes store arguably is: the music is the same as that which can be otherwise obtained, but it is the whole interface and downloading process that Apple software developers have devised that make the difference).

What is somewhat telling about the way thinking tends to go on in most organizations—which isn’t nearly as clever as that as at Apple—is what’s reported to be occurring within some software development companies at the behest of some people within the recording industry. According to an article in the May 4, 2003, New York Times, “Software Bullet Is Sought to Kill Music Piracy” by Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Some of the world’s biggest record companies. . .are quietly financing the development and testing of software programs that would sabotage the computers and Internet connections of people who download pirated music. . . .” Download something that you’re not supposed to, and find your computer temporarily (or more) fucked up. Great. Sorkin observes that this covert action may not occur—or at least “parts of it” won’t—”because they could be illegal under state and federal wiretap laws.” Given the track record of corporations during the past 18 months or so, with major executives facing the opportunity to learn how to dance behind bars, presumably this illegality is not a big hurdle.

Sorkin describes one of the programs, “freeze,” which “locks up a computer system for a certain duration—minutes or possibly even hours—risking the loss of data that was unsaved if the computer is restarted.” Or consider this one, called “silence”: it “scans a computer’s hard drive for pirated music files and attempts to delete them. One of the executives briefed on the silence program said that it did not work properly and was being reworked because it was deleting legitimate music files, too.” Great. The Music Industry checking out and messing with what’s on your computer. People sometimes worry that the government has some sort of Big Brother mentality. What Eisenhower identified in the 1950’s as the “military-industrial complex” is obviously more of a threat.

There’s Apple. It has spent its time and money coming up with new and better ways and means. On the other hand, there are the Neolithic music companies, trying how to further alienate their customers. Clearly, stupidity is no barrier to getting influential positions within some brand-name organizations.

We’ve been discussing the Apple Music Store on the boards for a while already. Also, see Paul Robinson’s article about how mp3s can change your life. And don’t forget about Stephen Macaulay’s article about the significance of etching stuff onto an Apple product.

13 thoughts on “A Rotten Core: RIAA vs. Apple”

  1. It’s simply amazing to me that so many companies miss the basic core of marketing, which is ‘give the people what they want’. Apple clearly pays attention to this maxim better than the RIAA, who thinks suing college students and hacking your computer is going to improve sales.

  2. Imagine what happens when real hackers (those crazy renegade types) want retribution for lost Prodigy downloads on their hard drives and start wooping ass on intrusive record companies. You think they gots problems now?

  3. I heard that phony Madonna files were put up on some file-swapping sites, and what you got when you downloaded and opened them was an obsenity-laced tirade from the aging, former boy toy. The response? Her official website was hacked repeatedly and defaced with profanity and photoshop treatments of her photos. I don’t know how true this story was (it was from a very reliable guy not given to making stuff up), but if it is true, it should be instructive to the record companies as to what might happen if they decide to go after file-swappers’ computers.

    And is anyone else uncomfortable with the prospect of a business becoming the cops and courts when it comes to piracy? Does this mean I can now find the guy who stole my boombox, break into his house, steal it back, and fuck up his furniture while I’m there? If they think they’ve caught a person trafficking in stolen files, they should report them to the authorities. That’s what they’re there for. That’s why they’re called “the authorities” and not “Sony music.”

  4. One last thing… if hackers go after the record companies for hurting their own machines, they’re going to do more than swear and draw mustaches on execs.

  5. In a reasonable society (i.e., one where the consumer gives a fuck), this will never fly. Multi-national corporations funding the active development of computer viruses is morally equivalent to defense contractors developing new and more effective weapons of mass destruction (don’t kid yourself that it doesn’t happen). If the music industry unleashes viruses to the cyber-community, they should be held to the same legal consequences as the developer of the Melissa virus was. You don’t re-establish your relevancy in a brave new world by resorting to thuggish tactics and underhanded desperate measures. If these should ever come to pass, I’d gladly encourage hackers to completely compromise these corporations’ IT infrastructures. Take that, Big Five!!

  6. Re: the Madonna thing

    I’d sooner cut my own arm off with a pocketknife than listen to her music, but did read about it.

    Apparently the thing to do at big labels is to flood the p2p networks with dummy files. In the case of Madonna they had a repeating audio message from her saying something like “what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” so people hacked into her site, made the actual songs available from there and said “this is what the fuck we think we’re doing”. Pretty funny.

  7. Let’s see…..

    I can buy all the garbage Apple hype, and start buying no-physical-product cd’s for $15 a pop (15 songs X 99 cents), or I can go to the record store and buy it with physical product for $13.

    Either way this is hardly the revolution Apple sorley wants you to belive it is.

    Now if songs were 25 cents, that’d be a different story.

  8. Since I got my iPod over a year ago my music listening habits have changed drastically. I rarely listen to CDs anymore. At work and out and about I have my iPod. When I’m home I mostly listen to vinyl.

    I live in a tiny studio apartment and am running out of room to store the CDs I now seldom listen too. The idea of not having to add to the clutter is extremely appealing to me. I haven’t tried out the iTunes Music Store, but I can’t wait. I’ll probably still buy CDs, but not as many as before.

    Apple is a hype machine, no doubt about it. But they know what they’re doing and they don’t care if not everyone buys into it. They have their niche and they know how to market to it. I’m part of the niche and now I’ll have more room for records.

    Btw, what store do you shop at where all the CDs are $13? Lemme know, I wanna shop there too!

  9. Also, full album downloads at Apple’s music store are mostly $9.99. Some albums are only available as singles, while others (most others) you can download all the tracks as an album.

  10. You mentioned that the MP4 files seem to have the cover art of the song included. What about lyrics? What about liner notes/booklet art, or a jewel box tray card? Granted, this is me the CD lover asking about it; if the system were able to competently replicate these, I might be more accepting. I can truly see the value to this, but at a lot of levels, receiving music SOLELY as files on a computer takes a lot of the “romance” out of it. Like, remember when SST meant you had a decent chance of getting a cool CD? Or seeing a TwinTone logo on a ‘Mats CD instead of a Sire logo and grinning inside? How about buying the 20th Anniversary version of Floyd’s DSOTM and seeing all the cool crap that came in that little box? You just can’t get that with a bunch of 0’s and 1’s on a hard drive. And yes, I realize this is a tired argument and both sides have their relative strengths and weaknesses, but it’s still a relevant point to me and an army of others.

    “We Care A Lot!!”


  11. Hey Jason Conny, I shop at Repo Records here in Philly and I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than 13.99 for anything. Most of the stuff I buy is between 9.99 and 11.99.


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