The First Disc Added to Murfie

This has been a question posed by many: What was the first disc ever to be added to our warehouse? Here’s a hint: It wasn’t Crash ;-)

Upon discovering the answer, it seems like this album would actually be a good Curious CD candidate!

Pushing the Salmanilla Envelope

(Jimmie’s Chicken Shack)

photo (2)

This disc was added to Murfie on November 30th, 2010, and over time there were 10 other Murfie members who sent in copies of the same album! The album review states that Jimmie’s Chicken Shack is composed of “hard-driving alternative rockers whose music is as intense as it is melodic.”

You know what they say—don’t judge a book by its cover. Right now this album is for sale for just $1!

Don’t Bury Your Digital Music!

One of the questions we get here at Murfie over and over again runs along the lines of:

What happens to my music when I die?

We get the question so often that we’ve set up two FAQ items to clarify the situation for our members (and prospective members):

On average, each of our members own and store 120 compact discs at Murfie. If they purchased them all new, each such average-sized collection represents an investment of as much as $2,000. In fact, in the United States alone, consumers have purchased around 15 billion compact discs at a cost (in today’s dollars) of about a quarter-trillion dollars. WOW! Some of our biggest members have as much as $50,000 or more invested in their CD collections!

So it’s not surprising that people think of their music collections as “assets” that they may want to hand down to their family, friends, or favorite charities. News outlets such as CNet and TIME Magazine have even addressed these “digital asset” inheritance issues. At Murfie, our members own their music, and it’s their business what happens to it after they’re gone.

Phonorecords: A Matter Where Matter Still Matters

 

Judge Sullivan’s decision in the recent Capitol Records versus ReDigi ruling allows for what we all know is perfectly legal; exchange and personal uses of original physical media, like the original commercial CDs that Murfie stores for an owner, providing access only to the owner.

Beyond that, the ruling was a bit of a letdown. In this modern era of digital audio delivered across high speed networks, we all wanted a profound decision about the future of ownership of our media.  We wanted a ruling that clearly let us know whether our iTunes downloads were albums we really owned versus data we’ve merely licensed. Instead, the case came down to the copying of… phonorecords. Phonorecords?

As defined by copyright law, phonorecords are the “material objects” in which the music is fixed. When the law was created in 1976, this meant vinyl records, eight-track tapes, and cassettes. The various music formats which followed over the years were also very clearly material objects. In the ReDigi case, the judge takes the definition of phonorecord to an entirely new level that now includes the physical section of magnetic bits stored on our harddrives in the case of iTunes downloads. By contrast, an album that is sold or accessed on Murfie’s platform simply is a CD phonorecord, stored for its owner’s convenience in Murfie’s disc vault.

And, this is where ReDigi ran into trouble. The instant that original, licensed download of Thriller was saved on our harddrive, that tiny section of bits on our physical drive became the material object associated with that phonorecord. Short of teleportation, it didn’t matter how fancy ReDigi’s system of transferring data was because, in the end, ownership of the concrete physical thing wasn’t conveyed to the buyer. The judge ruled that the laws of physics made it impossible to transfer a phonorecord (i.e. a material object) across a network in a manner that didn’t involve making a copy.

Extending the definition of a phonorecord to account for bits on a drive leaves open some interesting questions. The judge ruled that the first sale doctrine “still protects a lawful owner’s sale of her ‘particular’ phonorecord, be it a computer hard disk, iPod, or other memory device onto which the file was originally downloaded.” This seems to imply that we’re able to sell a harddrive containing a bundle of original mp3 downloads. But what about those mp3s that were transferred over to this harddrive when we upgraded it to a larger size? Or, even those files that were copied over to a new directory (file system specifics aside)?

In tying the case back to elements of copyright in place long before the rise of digital audio, the judge took a conservative approach and declined an opportunity to chart a path for first sale in the digital realm. He cited as much in his decision: “Congress has the constitutional authority and the institutional ability to accommodate fully the varied permutations of competing interests that are inevitably implicated by such new technology.”

In other words, congress needs to update our laws if the original copy of your iTunes download on your harddrive is going to be considered something more than a phonorecord that’s stuck with you (or whomever has your computer). So, for those of us waiting around for a digital first sale doctrine, it could be a while.

In the meantime, Murfie already provides a path forward for music ownership in a digital world. We’ll continue to maximize the value of your music within time-tested laws, but we also applaud any work entrepreneurs, legislators, and courts do to modernize those laws to reflect how our systems for transacting, storing, and accessing music, books, and movies that we own actually work. These advances are good for all parties and can hardly fail to lead to many new opportunities for creators, the various supporting media businesses, and fans alike.

Please drop in and check us out.

Last updated: 04/02/2013 at 4:22pm; a draft was posted by mistake

TIME Ponders Digital Music at End-Times

A copy of a recent issue of TIME crossed my desk recently, and an article by Katy Steinmetz asks:

What happens to your virtual things when you’re gone?

Steinmetz’s article “From Here to E-ternity” isn’t available online – except to subscribers – but it is worth seeking out, as she thoughtfully surveys the state of “post-death” rules and options around E-Books, Music, Games, Photos, Movies & TV, E-Mail, Social Media, and Domains.

The good folks at the Guardian Express did a nice follow-on piece that includes much of the data from the TIME article. The  grid of the different media types is worth a look-see.

We at Murfie believe that you can and should own your music. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of albums on Murfie, and each is backed by a physical Compact Disc that belongs to a customer. It’s theirs to take physical delivery of, stream or download music from, to give away, to sell, or even to pass along to their progeny when they shuffle off this mortal coil.

Owned -vs- Rented Media and the “Right to Resell”

Bill Rosenblatt of GiantSteps Media published a thought-provoking article The right to resell: a ticking time bomb over digital goods. It’s worth a read. Below I’ve shared some of my comments on his article.

When it comes to media in our culture today, we have two crisp models of acquisition, as defined by contracts, legislation, and case law: ownership and rental. Ownership falls almost exclusively into the “physical media” bucket and “digital media” is generally a rental (licensed) model. I for one hope we can someday work out a third model for “digital ownership” that works for consumers and for creators and for rights-holders.

If we as a society can create this third model of “digital ownership” sooner rather than later, we can leave “rented media” behind, in what will be a comparatively small bucket of “non-transferrable assets.” For example, over the last 30 years, US consumers have invested, in 2012 dollars, on the order of a quarter-trillion dollars in physical CDs, each with crisp fair-use and first-sale rights. The comparative total investment in rented digital music in the last 8 years is on the order of 5% of that.

We should be thoughtful about railing against rights-holders for the legal rights (or lack thereof) of the digital music that consumers have (bought) rented. In theory, we consumers knew exactly what we were getting into. That is to say, the terms of the licenses we agreed to are not unclear. Of course one can argue whether the average 18 year-old can and will read and understand all that legalese.

The ReDigi solution strives to expand the scopes of both legislative dicta and case-law. As Mr. Rosenblatt suggests, they’ve chosen a challenging mountain to climb. I’m not so sure I agree with his aside that it’s an odd position for ReDigi to take to enable first-sale-like rights AND bring the rights-holders in to participate as well. While this is indeed a deviation from what legislatures and judges have enabled, let’s be open-minded about asking questions like “why not?” as we attempt to sort out these thorny problems.

The fundamental challenge here (IMHO) is that most consumers of downloaded content make certain assumptions that they have fair-use and first-sale rights. They do not generally have those rights.

Each and every day Murfie wrestles with these issues of ownership -vs- rental as we attempt to integrate all of our customers’ music purchases across any and every physical and digital format.

Borrow My Borrowed Book

The issue of media ownership vs. rental isn’t just a music industry concern. Earlier this week, Publishers Weekly published a news item questioning and explaining some of the mechanics about how libraries purchase (license) eBooks from publishers.

Libraries to most folks are all about conservation and permanence. Heck, over 90% of all the US libraries that Andrew Carnegie funded 100 years ago are still standing! It struck me as curious to think of a library patron borrowing an eBook from a library who in turn has effectively borrowed it from the publisher. How far can that be extrapolated?

The next few years will see all forms of media wrestling with the issues of folks ‘owning’ media versus folks ‘renting’ their media.

Speaking of libraries, the attached photo is the ~3,600-disc-strong CD collection of the Medfield Public Library in Medfield, MA. Discs that they own and lend to their patrons.