Wrongs or Rights?


By Steve Oppenheimer

(July 2002)

By now, most EM readers are well aware of the raging battle over who will control access to digital content, be it audio, graphics, video, or text. Should anyone control the public’s ability to copy and reuse digital content? Common sense and the courts seem to favor granting control to copyright holders, but it’s far from clear how control should be established — if it can be established at all.

Some digital-audio protection methods involve modifying the files, which can affect sound quality. Other methods may not affect quality, but they prevent legitimate duplication — backups, for instance. Mutually incompatible technologies further muddy the waters. Moreover, some parties want to use these technologies to glean information about buyers for marketing purposes, which I find questionable.

In “The Digital-Rights Debate” (p. 110), Darin Stewart explains the state of digital-rights management, including the political issues, how currently proposed schemes work, and why anyone who creates digital content should be concerned.

However, I think more needs to be said. I understand the need to find a fair way to protect copyright holders, but some of the options disturb me. First, any scheme that is not compatible with all computer platforms is, to me, unacceptable because it dictates which computer you must own in order to listen to music. Any scheme that prevents users from making backups and personal copies of digital media is also problematic. In my view, such schemes violate the consumer’s legitimate rights.

The schemes Stewart describes are extremely complex. You and I probably can’t set up such systems ourselves, meaning only the wealthy will be able to protect their intellectual property — unless we become dependent on rights-management companies. That flies against the entire DIY approach we electronic musicians thrive on.

Before we support any scheme, we need to think carefully about its implications for independent musicians and for consumers. Let’s keep a close eye on those who would trample on our rights in order to further pad their wallets.


On a different note, you may have noticed this column’s new name, “First Take.” We’re retiring the name “Front Page” as we introduce our brand-new “Front Panel” section. A few “Front Panel” items are familiar: “Rev Up” and “Key Changes” from “What’s New,” parts of “Web Page” (see our Web site for the rest), and “15 Years Ago in EM.”

But “Front Panel” is much more than a reshuffling of existing elements. We’ve filled it with a variety of short applications tips, ranging from recording techniques to ways to get more from your software and hardware. Heading up the section each month will be our “EM Cool Tip of the Month,” contributed by Cool Breeze Systems. After you read the “Cool Tip,” you can visit our Web site (www.emusician.com/cooltip) to view a streaming movie about the tip and take a quiz to review what you’ve learned.

As with everything in EM, we welcome your feedback about the new “Front Panel” section. Feel free to e-mail us at emeditorial@primediabusiness.com.