Ownership Matters: A way to own digital media you buy online

In his piece for PoliticoMagazine, Kyle K. Courtney describes the questionably precise positioning of the “buy” button so commonly found next to music and movies online.

“When Amazon, iTunes or any digital retailer explicitly says ‘Buy Now’ and the consumer clicks that ‘buy’ button, there is a definite presumption of purchase, and, with that purchase, ownership. That presumption, however, is not reflected in reality,” says Courtney.

If you read the pages of fine print, which many of us don’t, you’ll see you’re not really “buying” anything. Your content is only as protected as the terms say it is, and only if the retailer maintains your access to the content you paid for, as they or their service can close at any time. Most of the digital content you buy is not protected by the solid legal rights you get when you purchase media in its traditional physical format.

So why do people keep buying into media they’ll never own? Courtney says, “We are attracted — and have become accustomed — to the convenience of rapid purchases and on-demand content. When it comes time to move our online MP3 collection or transfer digital content to another device, then we face a surprising reality: We do not really own our electronic music, books and movies in the same way we do when we purchase physical books, CDs, records or DVDs.”

With the Murfie service, we’ve created a hybrid of physical and digital ownership: digital content with true ownership rights in the underlying media you own. The music you buy on Murfie can be available instantly to stream, and you can sell it to someone else if you decide it’s not for you. This is possible because each album you buy is backed by a corresponding physical copy that we store at our headquarters. It’s up to you if you want to store your titles on our shelves or yours, but the digital access is available to you anywhere.

On-demand music and movies are convenient, and it’s true that not everyone will care about owning everything they pay for. But the main issue, Courtney seems to be saying, is transparency. If we’re not really “buying” the digital content from these other big-name services, that should be clear. Then people will have the information to make informed choices about real purchases vs. rental contracts, and go for an ownership-based model if that’s what they desired in the first place.

In the future, we could have ownership that’s free of the physical backups. This could be possible with better contracts around digital content, which could allow buyers to have permanent and transferable rights connected to the media they bought, in formats that work across vendors and services. At Murfie we refer to this as a Physical Equivalent License, and we’re working on offering one down the road—and when it happens, we’ll be sure to state what you are really paying for clearly, right on the buttons in the shops.

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.

What’s Your Most Beloved “Retro Media” Format?

Granted, I’m an overly nostalgic person, but I think for most people, old media formats hold a certain magic and retain a lot of their original charm. It’s the whole retro-cool thing: throwback media formats automatically give you distinctive taste and an air of authenticity in a mass consumer digital age.

I would be remiss if I counted my chickens before they hatched, though. I mean, I’ve been known to be wrong once or twice in my life, and I could very well have misconstrued this retro-media nostalgia. So, help me out! Do you still care about retro media? And if so, which one is your beloved? Take this here poll…

Physical Formats: They Will Stay With Us Forever

I heart you, PBS “Off Book.” You… you complete me.

Off Book, a web-original series from PBS Arts, recently produced an episode titled “We ❤ Retro Media: Vinyl, VHS, Tapes & Film” — and just between you and me, I’ve got a crush on it.

The short documentary explores the spectrum of physical formats — and why physical media is still attractive to so many people in a digital age. One of my favorite quotes from the video is

[Physical music] is an archival format… it will stay with us forever.

What do you guys think? Do you still care about so-called “retro media”? Let me know in the comment section below!

Music ownership vs. streaming

The line must be drawn here! This far and no further!

The battle between music ownership and streaming rages on. Both sides have their virtues. Owning music (definition: owning physical discs, either locally or remotely) gives you control and reliability, while streaming music over the Internet is all about access to a big music catalog. Somewhere in between is buying digital tracks or albums off online music stories like iTunes and Amazon, which gives you the license to listen to the music.

What camp do you fall in? Let us know in the poll. Then force your friends to take it. Scientia potentia est (knowledge is power)!

Music tastes change…

So don’t forget about the ace up your sleeve

Remember when Kings of Leon had indie cred? [This was before they blew up in the U.S., their singles Sex on Fire and Use Somebody pervaded the airwaves, and their egos perhaps got the best of them when they started to cut short shows – and axed a summer tour – for suspect reasons.] No? Fine then: I have no choice but to dislodge the memory from your brain by way of force, er story.

Once upon a time…in a land far, far away…KOL was perceived as gritty, bluesy Southern rock. Their music was popular with the hipster crowd. The band still sported weird haircuts. Etc. Need more proof? Just listen to their debut studio album, Youth and Young Manhood: it’s raw and unvarnished, nothing like their arena rock sound as of late.

Now, let’s say you’re one of those KOL fans who bought out their discography due to your affinity for their early stuff, but ultimately lost interest as they quote, unquote became sellouts. What are you to do with the latest, traitorous albums? Well, one of the many pluses of buying music compact discs is that you can sell them at a later date. Say what?! Here’s what’s up: you’re protected by the first-sale doctrine, which allows the purchaser of a copyrighted work to transfer their lawfully made CD of the copyrighted work to someone else.

This solid guarantee of legal rights to sell and trade your used CDs, my fickle music-loving friends, is your pocket aces hand…so don’t forget to play it! It’s your ticket out of being saddled with albums you no longer care for. Read more about selling your CDs, legally, here.