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My mother always said, "People who live in glass
houses shouldn't throw stones."
The entertainment industry should listen to my
It's been several weeks since I wrote about the entertainment industry's
battles against two technologies that ease the duplication of recordings,
MP3 and DeCSS (click to read that column). MP3.com, the online
vendor of digitized music, was stifled when it lost a lawsuit filed by the
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA, the unified front of
the recording industry).
In the interim, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has blasted out a
few of the recording industry's windows and provided ammunition for a
lawsuit that could shatter the recording industry's crystal abode.
The FTC ruled that major recording labels --
Universal Music and Video Distribution,
Sony Corp. of America, Time-Warner Inc.,
EMI Music Distribution and Bertelsmann
Music Group (BMG) -- had to discontinue a
program called minimum advertising pricing
What's MAP? Basically, it's a price-fixing scheme that kept CD prices
from falling and resulted in consumers paying $480 million more for CDs
then they should have.
Score One For The Entertainment Biz
The industry's lawsuit against MP3.com alleged
that the company had made unauthorized copies
of 80,000 compact discs and illegally distributed
those copies via its Web site.
MP3.com plays music files over the Internet, but
only if you already own the CD or have just
purchased the CD from MP3.com. The RIAA
disliked that and sued and won, even though
MP3.com had offered to consult with the industry beforehand.
U.S. law says anyone who owns recorded material can make a copy for
his or her own use. MP3.com's service essentially provides that copy for
anyone, provided that they already own the CD.
The judge's ruling said MP3.com was distributing music for which it didn't
hold the rights, a practice that had to stop.
Score One For Consumers?
By contrast, when the FTC ruled that MAP had to end, the major
recording labels had a say in negotiating the resolution. They didn't have
to pay a fine -- or repay the nearly half-billion dollars in overcharges.
Do consumers have hope that some of that money will come our way?
There's a class-action lawsuit pending on recording industry pricing
practices, specifically MAP. Filed in 1996, the lawsuit alleges that the
actual cost of manufacturing a CD is less than a dollar and that the
wholesale prices charged by major U.S. CD distributors "in most cases
represent(s) a markup of as much as two thousand percent (2,000
percent) over the manufacturing cost."
Unfortunately, the class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of record
stores and others in the wholesale chain, not consumers. One hopes that
between the FTC action and the lawsuit, CD prices will come down, but
there's no guarantee.
How To Put DVDs Onto CDs
Meanwhile, when it comes to duplicating video -- specifically, copying
DVD movies and cramming them into other storage formats -- technology
is racing ahead, a point on which I have been educated recently.
DVD movie files, of course, have already been compressed for compact
storage. It turns out that there is cutting-edge technology that can take
and further compress them so they'll fit on a CD-R disk, the recordable
That fact was pointed out to me by alert reader Mike Hicks of
Minneapolis, who, after praising the article (thanks!), e-mailed:
"I feel I should point out that a new video 'codec' is
becoming popular. [Codec is a type of software used to
record and play video, or 'code and decode' it].
"It's called 'DivX ;-)' (Apparently, the smiley is part of the
name) and has high-quality output. It is used for re-encoding
DVD movies [compressing them with software] into
approximately 600 megabytes, which can fit on a CD. This
replaces the codecs for the moderate-quality VideoCD
[another video format with lower video quality]. With
CD-Rs readily available, the storage cost therefore drops to
$1 or less [for storage of a copied DVD movie].
"DivX can be found at http://divx.ctw.cc.
"This DivX codec sounds pretty cool, as it can do better
compression than the MPEG2 video compression used on
DVDs. It also uses MP3 or Windows Media Audio to do
the soundtrack. However, it appears to be a Windows-only
thing, so I don't care all that much (I have primarily used
Linux since 1997)."
Mike makes a really good point about using DivX;-) to copy DVDs.
(Not to be confused with just plain Divx DVDs, which was a disk format
that some retailers attempted as a competition to DVD; it failed.)
Yeah, But Why Would I Do All That Techie Stuff With My
There's actually a good reason why someone might want to go through all
If you spend a lot of time on the road, but your laptop computer doesn't
have a DVD drive or the horsepower to actually play a DVD movie, why
shouldn't you be able to make a recordable CD-R disk that you could
view on your laptop?
It's perfectly legal to make the copy, provided that you already own the
DVD. On the other hand, the law also says you cannot use the new
DVD-decoding program DeCSS to break the code on DVD data. I
believe that that's wrong.
Damn The Consequences!
If you want to store a movie on a CD-R disk anyway, here's the
Use the DeCSS program to record the disk to your hard drive.
Use DivX;-) to convert the video from MPEG2 compression to
MPEG 4 compression, making the copy smaller to fit on the CD-R
Finally, convert the audio to MP3.
This takes a fair amount of time and computer power, and I really can't
believe that the quality of the video image would approach that of the
original DVD, but it will work.
The key to preventing piracy isn't going to be further regulation, but rather
common-sense pricing and distribution of DVD material. If there's a
market for movies on CDs, why doesn't the industry distribute them in
that format as well? The quality probably wouldn't be as good as a DVD,
so MPEG4 CDs could be priced correspondingly cheaper.
Better to sell to a market than promote piracy.
We're Willing To Pay
We'll give the last word to reader Tony Hope of Huntington Beach,
Calif., who wrote:
"I recently read your online
article 'Why the Music Biz Can't Beat
MP3,' and all I can say is, 'Hear,
hear!' Your arguments and examples
are right on the money.
"Since the MP3 craze broke, I have
long advocated and would
gladly accept a method by
which I could purchase
individual songs online. The
price of CDs is unbearable at
$14-$18 a pop, for which I
may acquire one or two decent
"Until the recording industry
pulls its collective head out of its
arse, services like Napster
(which I shamelessly admit I've
used), Gnutella and others will
continue to thrive. I applaud
your common sense and hope
others will bend an ear to
The FTC agrees with you on the "unbearable" cost of CDs, Tony. In light
of the markup exposed by the MAP ruling, one has to question whether
the recording industry has the moral authority to call anyone a "pirate."
Editor's note: Channel 2000 and Internet Broadcasting Systems
apologize for the use of the word "arse" in this article.