Ramblings | July 19, 2015

The Legality of Ripping CDs

The High Court has overturned a change in the law which allowed listeners to make copies of music they had purchased for their own private use. The Musicians’ Union was instrumental in this judgement having argued for “fair” protection for their members.

As a consumer I feel this is far from fair, but as a musician I am absolutely livid.

If, as a consumer, I have bought music I feel I have paid my dues and should be allowed to listen to it how I please. It is clear what my expectation is: I am buying the music in order to listen to it. I am not buying it in order to listen to it on a specific device, I am paying for the right to listen to your music. Any claim that I should be required to pay again if I wish to listen to the same music digitally, or to have the convenience of not carrying it back and forth between my house and car, is purely a cynical attempt to over-complicate things with the sole purpose of wringing extra money out of what is in reality a very simple transaction.

But presumably as a musician, I see the other side of this? Well actually no, not at all. It’s as a musician that this particularly angers me.

This is petty, wrong-headed and self-defeating stuff by the music industry and the Musicians’ Union should be ashamed of themselves for being part of it.

UK Music argued that allowing private copies to be made cost artists £58m a year.” That’s a tautologous argument and an imaginary cost, akin to, “Tesco argued that allowing consumers to eat leftovers the next day cost supermarkets £58m a year.” It makes no comment on the rights and wrongs of and instead speaks of a contemptuous view of listeners as nothing more than sources of revenue subject to rules which should be designed not for fairness but so as to extract maximum profit.

In an era where sales of albums (as opposed to streaming or simply downloading or copying for free) are in rapid decline, people who are still actively buying music in this way should be treated with fairness, respect and even with some sense of gratitude. Buying a physical copy of an album to own should be seen as the premium option in music consumption. People who are prepared to do so should not be harangued and pursued endlessly for more and more money.

When buying a copy of an album costs around as much as a month’s subscription to one of the all-you-can-eat subscription streaming services, it is a real and financially meaningful act of support for the artist in question to pay them directly for their work. Musicians may well be fighting a battle for survival in a world that is increasingly viewing music as a commodity of near-zero price, but attempting to bully the listeners (or “customers”) who are still deliberately paying us for our work is neither right nor sensible.

I’m not going to say that receiving some sort of payment for my music doesn’t matter to me. Producing an album is expensive and sales help to recover the cost of that and make it possible for me to produce more music. Without sales, it’s hard to continue on any meaningful scale. But the people who buy my albums are not a “revenue source” that I feel entitled to wring more and more money out of. A sale is not merely an anonymous positive entry on my bank statement. My audience are my benefactors and my patrons, and I am genuinely, deeply grateful to them for their choice to actively support my music.

If you buy one of my albums on CD then please: feel free to rip it for your media player, make a copy for your car, play it for your friends and just generally feel free to listen to the thing you’ve paid me for in whatever manner suits you. You have done your bit. Thank you.

Any other stance seems like small-minded, penny-pinching bullshit.


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2 Responses to “The Legality of Ripping CDs”

  1. Synthetase says:

    Hear hear!

    I’m a big music fan and I still buy physical media because I want something tangible when I buy music. I choose to support the music industry (seriously, we all know where the pirate bay is…) and I do not appreciate being treated like a wallet. Piss me off and I’ll take my money elsewhere (I’m looking at you, Metallica).

    • Ben Bell says:

      That’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s not as if — despite the attempts at draconian legislation, copy-protection and more — the Music Industry has had any impact on copying and sharing of music.
      What makes the difference is people choosing to pay for the music, either because It’s The Right Thing or because it’s convenient.
      Treating those few good people as potential criminals you need to legislate against, or making their lives harder, is clearly an idiotic response.

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