New business model: hate your customers

About a month ago, I wrote Universal Music Group to complain about reports that starting in mid 2002, all their CDs would be copy protected using a format that renders them unplayable on Macs and on many CD players. Today I got a response from an automated support email that I’ve posted. I think there are two things in the letter of interest:

  • First, they claim that they hope to include Mac-based “playability” on copy-protected discs, and that they “have not made a commitment” to put copy protection on all their CD releases. This directly contradicts the statement made in Billboard last month.
  • Second, they claim that “unauthorized CD ‘ripping’ leads to illegal Internet distribution of music.”

The second is an interesting and novel claim. Let’s break it apart. First, what does “unauthorized CD ripping” mean? The last time I checked, fair use allows me to make a copy for personal reasons. This blanket “unauthorized” accusation and the copy protection measures that attempt to prevent it are only infringing my fair use rights. Second, how does ripping lead to distribution? Last time I checked, they were two separate acts. Just because I rip one of my CDs to put it on my iPod doesn’t mean I’m going to distribute it on the Internet. I agree that file sharing programs like Napster and KaZaA are designed to facilitate distribution. But ripping? Oh man we’re in trouble if the RIAA goes after that one.