2013-07-30

Like many who grew up in the 90's, I own a considerable number of CDs. CDs are of course physical objects, and they take up physical space. I've been trying to reduce the number of objects I own for the last few years, and these are prime candidates to hit the road. But there's a problem. Since I never listen to them anymore, I'd ideally like to throw them away while retaining the "rights" I have obtained by purchasing these disks. Of course, this is not possible.

What do I mean by obtaining "rights"? What I mean is that if we have purchased these physical music recordings, then we have the right to copy them for our own, personal, noncommercial use. It means that we can burn another CD so that we have one copy in the living room and one in the car. It also means that we can rip a MP3 legally for our PCs and portable music players of our choice. But once we throw the physical disks away, we immediately lose these rights since we no longer have this physical object which has a secondary purpose (after the sound data itself) of of providing us with the right to reproduce the recording for personal use. If for one reason or another we are prosecuted for having digital copies created from these disks, we have no way of defening ourselves once we've throws the physical disks away.

Now, the chances of this kind of scenario happening are remote. Thus I imagine that many of us have already ripped MP3s from the disks and have long since tossed these shiny pancakes into the trash. Books present a similar problem, and I increasingly see friends scanning their books and tossing the remnant papers away. Perfectly pragmatic. Yet I cant't help but feel annoyed at the lack of elegant choices for us to transfer our means of proof of ownership from a physical to digital medium in this day and age. As far as I can tell, our only real choices are (1) to repurchase the songs on iTunes or Google Play or some other digital store (and even then we should always be aware that we never actually "own" these digital copies and they will be retracted after our death), or (2) let go of ownership entirely and move to a subscription service like Spotify or Grooveshark. Neither option is ideal, and I'm 100% confident that a perfect solution will never arise (the RIAA certainly has no motivation to do anything, and there's no money to be made for other companies so no one will ever push for a solution), which is quite sad.

My non-solution for the time being is to use the Grooveshark web app, which is free of charge and doesn't even require a login. If forced to make a choice between outright digital purchases and a subscription service, I'm leaning heavily towards a subscription service. Maybe the era of content ownership is coming to an end, as we learn to cope with owning neither our digital books, movies, or music. It's a Brave New World.