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Lost in Cyberspace

Entertainment industry keeps fighting new technology

This article was originally published on February 8, 2000 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

You almost have to wonder if they aren't a little nuts.

The entertainment industry moguls, that is.

Just about every time some new technology comes down the road, the Hollywood bigwigs have their lawyers out there trying to stop it. Audiocassettes. Videocassettes. Digital Audio Tapes. CD burners. MP3 format. DeCSS (a program to copy DVDs).

When it comes to technological innovation, the Amish are regular Thomas Edisons compared to the supposed brains of Hollywood.

And it's not as if the music or movie conglomerates have ever ended up poorer for the arrival of a new storage medium – how many hundreds of millions of dollars, or even billions, have outfits like Sony, Capitol, Virgin, et al, made off repackaging "classic rock" and jazz albums from the LP era into CDs and selling us what we already owned on vinyl?

(As for their professed concern for the poor struggling musicians whose work is what's really at stake ... you ever talk to a musician about the timeliness of their royalty checks? Next time you're at a smaller venue where you can actually talk to the band, ask them how they like their payment schedule. Then duck ...)

What brings all this up is that – that supposedly groundbreaking, visionary and highly wealthy Web site that basically didn't do or offer anything other than having a good URL – finally has a product to justify all the hype. And, of course, the recording industry has yet again filed a lawsuit in an effort to stop this new technology. (And has now filed a countersuit against the Recording Industry Association of America.) now allows you to save your CDs into MP3 format and store them on the Web so that you can listen to them anywhere you have Web access.

Now, you don't actually save your own CD, the one physically in your collection. Instead, has a library of 45,000 CDs already converted into MP3 format. Any of those you own, you can then register and listen to via the Web.

The recording industry's lawsuit claims that this service is a copyright infringement, that is actually selling new music without paying royalties.

But what really offers is a service that is already recognized as legal by the music industry in the analog world – all that's changed is the technology.

Right now, today, if you have a cassette deck in your car but no cassette recorder at home, there are businesses that will make tapes of your CDs (or even LPs, for that matter) for you, charging you a small service fee. ( makes its money off selling ads on the Web site, where you have to go to access your online copies of your collection.)

No one would reasonably argue that these tape dubbing companies are ripping off Hollywood; after all, the federal courts have repeatedly held that you have a right to make a backup of any recorded products (audio recordings or software) for your personal use. And the dubbing companies aren't selling you new music – they're simply converting music you already own to a new format.

And that's all is – a digital dubbing service.

They're just using the power of computers and the Internet to save their customers the hassle of having to physically submit their discs for dubbing. In digital format, all discs are identical – as long as the Beam-it software is as secure as they say it is (and it seems to be), then there are no copyright issues to be discussed. You can't use to listen to CDs you don't already possess. (Now, could folks swap discs back and forth or trade passwords to listen to each others' music? Sure – and you think they don't do that with their CD-ROM burners and cassette tapes already? Even the music industry honchos know that individual pirating actually spurs sales, rather than hampering them.)

Besides, has also developed technology that allows you to purchase new CDs online and add them immediately to your online playlist before the album is even shipped to you (although not before your credit card is processed). This software is likely to be duplicated or licensed to other Web sites and, once again, the entertainment industry will get a huge sales boost from a technology it originally tried to block.

Which brings us back to the question of their sanity: I mean, wouldn't it make more sense to save all that money they're giving to the lawyers and use it for a slick little marketing plan?