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Pirates of Microsoft: Curse of the Black MP3
By Jerry Flattum - 11/02/2006 - 08:38 AM EST

Here's what I do: I go to the library and check out 20 or 30 CDs at a time. There is no limit to the number of CDs I can check out. It's just that I would feel funny walking out the door holding a bag with a 100 CDs. But, other than my own self-imposed limit, there's no limit.

I am tempted to test the system and walk in with a shopping cart someday.

I even feel self-conscious checking out 30. So something compels me to tell the librarian as she's scanning the bar codes that the reason I check out so many is because I "rip" them. I've encountered a couple of librarians who don't know what "rip" meant or the phrase "rip and burn," but most do know.

In the last batch of CDs I checked out, the librarian did know. Her response was to just smile and nod. She wasn't much of a talker. But more importantly, she cared less what my intentions were. I expected her to be suspicious, even though I had done it many times before.

I use Windows Media Player 10 (WMP10) to rip these CDs to my computer. Ever so often I get a pop-up that asks me if I want to sync the rip to my device. I click no, because I don't use an mp3 player or "burn" the newly ripped mp3 files to disk.

To date, I have close to 500 CDs ripped to my computer, roughly equivalent to 5000 individual mp3 files. Most pop/rock CDs have about 10 tunes each. I rip a lot of ethnic, New Age and soundtrack CDs as well, so file lengths vary.

Recently I've thought about joining Napster or iTunes? But then I thought, why join a service when I already have a collection of mp3s so large that I don't even know all of what I got?

Then it dawned on me: I'm a pirate. Then it dawned on me again: No I'm not. The library let's me check out as many CDs as I want. WMP10 is also free.

In early 2001, Napster was shut down on the basis of copyright violation. Millions of users were sharing music files for free. There are three key words here: millions, file sharing and free. Where Napster came up with the $1 billion settlement is anyone's guess. Afterall, the Napster software was free.

Kazaa, Limewire, Morpheus and You Tube are still on the loose. Recently (fall 2006), there is much talk about Google buying You Tube...for millions.

Let me take a closer look at the three keywords above. For the first keyword, "millions," I am only one person who goes to the library, checks out a CD and rips it to my computer using WMP10. No, I'm not sharing the rips with my friends (I think it's because I don't have any). But, you could say, that the library is my friend.

Considering the keyword, "file sharing," The library is sharing these CDs with me. For the third keyword, "free," not only is the libary free but so is WMP10.

Now, there are a million, if not millions, of other card carrying members of libraries across the globe who like me, check out tons of books, CDs, videos and DVDs everyday.

Before the digital revolution, millions of people have been checking out books from libraries since the Big Bang. People who check out books don't neccessarily do so because the can't afford to buy books, they do so because they have no need to buy books.

For the most part, You read a book once and you're done with it. That's it. Sure, there are reference manuals that get revisited. But for sake of argument, I'll stay with fiction.

I ask this very basic question: Why do you--anyone--want to own a book when you can check it out from the library? What need do you have to own it? Are you an addict? Do you want to impress someone with the size of your own personal library? Do you want to save your kids a trip to the library? Why would you want to deprive your kids a visit to the grandest institution of all?

What's the difference between the book publishing world and the music industry?

Here's a bigger question: How is it that libraries are able to exist at all, when people can check out books and other items without anyone paying a royalty?

Back to CDs. Well, I think I made my point. There's not much more to discuss, really. But I would like to point out that I will never buy the 500 CDs I currently have ripped to my hard drive. CD and DVD prices vary, so for the sake of argument, let's say the average cost is $10. This means the music industry did not get $5000 of my money.

If there's a million folks like me checking out CDs from the library, and let's assume everyone has a collection of only 100 CDs instead of my 500. This means the total cost NOT paid to the music industry is 100x10x1,000,000 = a billion bucks.

How many folks check out how many CDs on any given day around the world? Upping the ante, how many folks have checked out how many CDs for the last 10 years? How many of those folks have WMP10 installed on their computers?

I have more questions. Why are kids losing their computers, getting fined and going to jail? What about the drug dealers, I mean, the software programmers and distributors? Hell, what about the libraries?

Why is Microsoft not being held liable?

Nobody at Microsoft told me not to rip, or burn, or share.

Nobody at the library told me not to rip. Nobody at the library told me not to send my ripped files via email to my friends.

A few people I know use FTP. In most cases, these FTP programs are also free, if not, then cheap. There are online storage websites that are either free or for a few bucks a month let me upload tons of gigabytes of files, never asking what kinds of files I'm uploading. My friends, if I had any, can then access these files...for free. They can do it through email, FTP or online storage.

Microsoft even let's me swap playlists. Microsoft has gone out of its way to make file sharing easy as Plug and Play.

There ya go. I have no need for Kazaa or Morpheus. I have no need for iTunes or Napster. I have no need for Amazon.com. I have no need for retail stores. And...I have a library of 500 CDs.

Don't you think the library will eventually go digital? Makes sense, really. Why check out physical CDs when everyone listens to digital audio files anyway? CDs are just antiquated transport devices.

How will the library system control digital downloads? What's the point, unless there is a way to prevent making a copy?

I forgot to mention I have a large hard drive and a handful of external drives. I forgot to mention that I can save--and I do--all my digital audio files on my external hard drive. I could take it over to my friend's house, and with a USB or Firewire cable, transfer these 500 CDs to her computer in the time it takes to smoke a...well, you know. Actually, smoking takes longer.

Oh yeah...my friend? Yes, I do have one. Well, she's got a collection of CDs too, that she checked out from the library. So, we swap.

Both of us plan to get more friends, especially one's who go to libraries and have external hard drives. If we act fast, I'd say in a few months time, I'll have 2000 CDs on my hard drives...maybe even 5000. Let's see: 5000 CDs just about covers the entire history of music, well, all the history I'll ever need.

OK, 10,000. Is that better? That just about covers Napster's database.





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