During middle school, I signed up for BMG music service over and over again, relishing the accumulation of cheapish CDs–12 for the price of one, plus enormous shipping costs–and my collection grew from dozens to hundreds over a few years. Small black plastic cases gave way to larger wooden storage units. My ability to make locally renowned mix tapes skyrocketed. The collection was a source of pride. I bought plenty of crap, took a chance on bands such as Primus and Ministry (not personal favorites now or then), and used every family member as an alias as to increase my music stash.
I could trade albums with friends. I could remove the cover art and plaster my bedroom walls. I could sell used albums to Pitchfork records on Main Street in Concord, NH, so I could buy the latest Pearl Jam album just as it came out. Heck, I could even utilize outcast CDs as frisbees.
Digital music consumption, for all of its benefits, has eroded a secondary and social market.
So now I’ve got a couple thousands of dollars locked up in my computer in the form of MP3s, an issue NPR’s Planet Money recently explored in this thought-provoking piece from reporter Caitlin Kenney. Have you heard of ReDigi? It’s an online marketplace for pre-owned digital goods such as e-books and MP3s, but the company is, unsurprisingly, embroiled in lawsuits.
If you can do whatever you want with a physical CD or book, ReDigi contends, then you should be able to do the same with digital pieces. The legal concept is known as first-sale doctrine. Why shouldn’t I be able to resell MP3s purchased on iTunes for half-price to somebody else?
Kenney asks, “Do you really own something if it’s just a bunch of ones and zeroes on your computer? If you take a digital song and you move someplace else, did you actually move it or did you just make a copy and destroy the original?”
A judge sided with Capitol records in their case against Redigi, stating that you can only sell your MP3s if you do so along with the original device on which the item was downloaded, say an iPod or computer.
If streaming and wireless technology continues to proliferate and improve, what is the incentive to buy any books, music, or movies? Personally, I still buy an album or so a month on iTunes, plus scattered single tracks. But I might soon shift to strictly on-demand music. I’d rather put my money in a retirement account or towards a vacation than in an inaccessible digital vault.
As far as books are concerned, I can’t imagine trading my dusty and eclectic bookshelves for digital versions of texts that send me back to a specific time and place, still provide opportunities to trade and borrow, and serve as conversation pieces for guests.
We continue to consume and purchase more and more digital material, so ownership issues will not become simpler any time soon. And for those who pat themselves on the back, because they believe they are saving the environment by bypassing petroleum-based plastic CD covers and book pages sourced by deforestation, the issue isn’t so simple. Here’s some final food for thought, a PBS Mediashift article about the environmental impact of digital versus print media.
Do you still collect CDS, tapes, or Vinyl? How about e-books? Have you considered your inability to legally sell digital items you purchase? What is your take?