Industry Opinion: Can We Sell Old MP3s?

Labels are trying to block a site that lets you sell old MP3s, but is it right in the first place? We also introduce some smart new playlist services, and question whether developers are the new rockstars.

Ultimate Guitar

Welcome to our second weekly roundup of industry news and opinion.

Last week we celebrated the 30th birthday of the CD. But we live in a digital age, and unlike CDs, we can't sell on MP3s when we're finished with them. Or can we?

ReDigi is a service that lets you sell your 'old' MP3s to willing buyers, just like eBay, while neatly deleting the files from your computer to keep the labels happy.

The problem is, the labels don't believe it. They think that a second-hand MP3 market will damage their revenues even further, which would suck after all that trouble with Piracy.

ReDigi say that US copyright law allows CDs to be sold on, and that it should also apply to digital music. Labels say it only applies to physical products, and so took a lawsuit against ReDigi to court last Friday.

This case could prove to be a big deal, because its conclusion could decide how the law perceives digital products and what rights we have when we buy them.

The labels are saying that MP3s can't be 'sold on' because computers have to technically copy them to other computers first, and we all know that copying certain files is illegal. ReDigi swears it doesn't work like that, and said "there is no copy involved. The actual file is being transported."

If ReDigi wins the case, we could be sitting on a goldmine of MP3s which haven't been played for years. If it loses, businesses from all sectors will cite this as an example of why digital files can never be resold. It's too early to tell how this might affect us, but when you think how many modern products are purely digital, it makes you wonder how far our digital lives will go.

Meanwhile, here's a cool music tool to browse. It's called Stereomood and it claims to filter new music from independent labels based on your mood.

This is only one of many new music services which are being hacked together by independent developers. The music hacking scene is one to watch - it's basically a global group of people who experiment with the open data being provided by labels to make brand new music apps. Sometimes the data is as simple as artist information and gig listings, and sometimes it's the equivalent of opening access to a music-analysing supercomputer. Either way, it enables young devs to explore ideas and apps that they would never have a chance to make otherwise.

One of the coolest things about this arrangement is how the developers get together at so-called 'hack days' where they arrive in the morning and collaborate over the day on something fun, fuelled by Red Bull and pizza. In some ways it's the most punk scene for years, but many musicians don't even realise it's happening.

Does this mean the new rock stars will be developers? Should musicians be collaborating with coders on the future of music? It certainly looks it could go that way. If you want to try your hand at coding, try a site like Codecademy which can teach you how to start.

On that note, I'll leave you to play with another great music hack: the YouTube Related Music Player. Start with one video and it'll run an endless stream of similar music. We'll hunt for all the really exciting music apps for a future article.

While you listen to that, let's start a debate:

Should we have a right to sell old MP3s?

Do new streaming services satisfy your needs as a music fan?

Are developers the new rockstars?

Let us know your opinions in the comments. UG staff will be joining the debate, so feel free to ask your own questions.

By Tom Davenport Twitter: @TomDavenport

99 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I haven't really thought this thru, but what keeps me from copying all of my Mp3's to an external hard drive and then selling the "original" Mp3's to ReDigi? Any ideas?
    Well it's no different than making a copy of a CD, then selling your original CD.
    I agree in a physical sense this is true, but the legality regarding the digital files is different. I would love redigi to win this case because it would force companies to give some rights to users with digital files but in all fairness they have a weak case...
    Actually, CDs are by definition 'digital', the only difference here is the delivery method.
    I agree the CD's hold "Digital" data, but they are physical entities. Legally there is a difference between the ownership of digital and physical music. With a physical copy you own the physical copy and the right to use the data contained within for personal use. With a digital copy you hold a license for it's use. The difference here is that a license can be revoked at the behest of the licensor. The laws of licenses thus applies to digital copies of data with no physical entity. (I believe this is correct but I may be wrong on a few points, tis been a while since i researched this) But in any event, there has been a huge surge in digital distribution of things for convenience but they certainly made no attempt to usher in user rights for digital property. But without these rights they own the ability to control how we can use their data, for example if they so desired they could make it that any MP3's you download can ONLY be used with their music player and if you dont abide this they can terminate your rights to use the data... That's why i WANT redigi to win, because it will force companies to begin looking into user ownership of digital property.
    OWNERSHIP lies with the copyright holders - typically some combination of the label and the artist. The MP3, or CD, or cassette, or vinyl, or whatever else is only a MEANS by which the end user can enjoy the copyrighted content at home. At no point does anyone else OWN anything. It's a lot like software has always been - read a EULA. You can USE the software as intended by the publisher, but according to a typical software license agreement, you can only install it on one computer unless you purchase additional licenses. You don't OWN anything, you simply have the MEANS by which you use the software. So when you click "I have read and agree to these terms" you're saying that you will not violate the license agreement - usually by not copying and distributing it. Every additional copy you install represents one license not sold by the developer which is an abstract form of shoplifting as far as the bottom line is concerned. Now, when it comes to music, copyright law is very hard to enforce, and very easy to violate. The industry has not really adapted to the new means by which people listen to music yet. They're stuck back 20 years ago when this didn't happen and of course, at some point labels are going to have to adapt. But the adpatation isn't going to be users owning anything - the adaptation will be something regarding how the labels distribute music.
    Unless they had a counter of how many times the Mp3 was copied and not allowed it to be sold if it was copied to external source. Of course that would me you wouldn't be able to put it on a device like an ipod. And that kinda defeats the purpose of digital music to start with. Selling Mp3s seems ridiculous to me anyways.
    Well they could and should have been encoding a unique ID for each mp3 downloaded to legitimize it as a legitimate purchase, then it would be a simple matter of verification. Since they haven't put this in place there is nothing to stop that right now but it would then allow them to know if a copy of an mp3 had been legitimately purchased, in the correct IP and many other useful things... but once again they didn't want digital files to have the same rights and therefore worked against this sort of arrangement thus costing themselves a lot of revenue already...
    I think this is precisely one of the objections the music industry has to this plan. You can legally make copies of an MP3 for yourself, but there is no way to track which one of them is the "original" one or if you have made copies of it
    Yunno, to be honest, i was thinking the same thing, I don't exactly agree with this for the reason that, you're selling something that can be copied over and over again, it just won't work like that. At least if you're reselling a CD, the buyer is getting a physical copy of what they own.
    Guys, I'll reiterate what has been said many times. Stop downvoting these kind of articles. The vote system is there to show whether or not you thought the article was good and showed good journalism. Downvoting this article implies you didn't like the context of the article, and not the news it brings. So, please only downvote an article if you think there is something inherently wrong about the article, such as, biased view, lack of sources, bad grammar. etc.
    In my opinion, it serves more of a purpose to be a vote on whether people like the content or not. Thats just the way it comes across and I think that people will see it as that rather than a vote on the quality of the article. To counter this, maybe have an option to vote for the quality of the article as well as what people think?
    I was thinking that. Like an 'opinion on the news' bar. And an 'opinion on the quality' bar. Because there are a few times where both bars would be very different to each other.
    Yeah exactly. It shouldnt be too hard to implement and would give both the writers and users information they both want.
    I agree, people seem to vote on whether they like the news or not. If people don't like the content they'd probably rather vote with their feet.
    What's to keep me from copying all my CD's onto an external hard drive and selling the original CD? It's the same thing, they are just trying to get a jump on the laws regarding digital information because they missed out on doing this for CD's.
    well if i make a cd with all the songs on lets say appetite for destruction on a plain re writable put it in a crappy jewel case and sell it myself thats bootlegging it no? and isnt that illegal? so isnt it more like that?
    I wasn't even talking about copying the CD to a CR-R or anything... I'm talking about ripping the music for your own enjoyment and then selling the real original CD in it's full glory. I could still listen to the music in the same format I would probably end up listen to it (via some sort of media player on my computer or from my phone) and others could buy the CD they wanted at half the price. This is how used CD stores worked when they were still around. Hell, with USB turntables you can even do this with vinyl now!
    The difference is that it's not a bootlegged copy on a CD-R in a crappy jewel case. The copy of a digital file is a 100% replica of the source file. There is virtually no way to tell them apart, and anyone receiving a copy would be none the wiser - whereas the recipient of a bootlegged CD-R should be able to spot the difference immediately, as they're not purchasing a complete/legitimate product.
    right i agree with you but im saying that anyone buying that bootleg knows theyre buying secondhand and not from a record store or something. and im saying that its just as illegal if you were to bootleg cds in that fashion not saying that theyre exaclty the same
    This is very open to abuse and it's likely it's only feasible with DRM encrypted files, or if it partnered with itunes or had a similar store setup where you can sell licenses you don't want. ... but ugh... DRM. I hate DRM. The worst examples only last as long as your computer does.
    Well... turns out it does exactly what I said, and you can play any copies if it cancels your license. However, you can still burn a CD and rip it back off.
    I only download mp3's through Soulseek, so I never paid for them. I usually download free mp3's and then, if I like a cd especifically, I buy the cd, never mp3's. I never quite got this because I personally get no gratification in buying mp3's. But seeling old mp3's ? The whole idea of "old mp3's" sounds ridiculous to me because they're just informatic files. I may be a bit out of topic here, but this whole thing just sounds fishy.
    Danjo's Guitar
    This is because digital copies aren't the same as ownership, which is why no-one wants to pay for them, and why many people, like me, prefer physical copies.
    Do these "used" MP3's cost less? Because it's not like an MP3 shows any wear even after you spin it 1000 times. Like others, I'm confused how this scheme makes any money at all. I mean, if ReDigi has to BUY these MP3's before selling them, they probably have to charge even more than normal, right? Or is the whole scheme that they avoid exorbitant fees that would otherwise go to the label and the artist? I'm just not understanding how they make money off of this.
    The whole idea is pointless to me. Besides what most already wrote about, what stops me from ripping my CDs to MP3 after I sold those exact same songs? Either way, I'll stick with physical formats.
    the argument is why would anyone ever buy a "new" mp3 again when redigi is selling "used" ones for half price? obviously the "new" and "used" ones are 100% identical...
    Industry That world says it all. Support the indie labels guys, music never was meant to be a mass product.
    I think it's great that an industry emerged around music. It generates a lot of jobs, money and enjoyment for people around the world. People at majors are just the same as people at indie labels, they just tend to be better at their jobs as far as I've seen!
    You have a point about jobs, but I'm only talking about the artistic side. Indie labels are not on the same market as majors, that would be suicide. Majors are just ignoring a whole part of people for the sake of making money, while independants are picking up the crumbs. Why should some music be easier to access than another, at the era of global communication? We need more people helping each other to record their stuff, a lot of people doesn't like the DIY way, I guess they just want to sound like every other band.
    You raise fair questions but ultimately it's the public who vote on what should be promoted by spending on music they want. It's a pretty fair system. Is it really that unfair for a major to focus on making money? Businesses are ruled by evolution in the same was as organisms. Some survive because they're better at generating money. Some don't, which is a shame, but simply a side-effect of capitalism.
    Imo it can seem fair but it's not, people became music consumers, so they buy what other people buy, what the trend is, and ultimately what the majors want them to buy. Plus there's a real lack of musical education. And just like if you don't wear the clothes everyone wears, if you don't listen the same music as everyone then you're out. That's how society works, blend in a group or gtfo. I don't blame the majors for focusing on money making, but if people were more aware of indie artists, a rebalancing will be more likely to happen.
    "There's a real lack of musical education." What stops the indies providing that education? If you say money, you can probably guess what my response would be!
    If either majors or indies provide musical education that would just be advertising, just like it makes me laugh when a food company tries to learn you how to eat well. Nobody is gonna give that education at a big scale, you can only count on yourself, friends, parents... Education system doesn't learn you how to analyze things and get your own conclusions. I'm not pretending to have a solution, I'm just telling where I think the problem is, without saying there's an easy way to solve it.
    If the industry wants to argue that resale rights should only apply to physical products, surely the same applies to the rights of original sale. If I don't have the right to sell and MP3 that I bought, then the company the I bought it from shouldn't have a right to sell it, either. Based on a system of ownership so long defined that it's ingrained in our culture, it's either a commodity or it isn't; I don't think that there can really be a grey area. If it is ever owned, then, as with any product, it can be bought, and ownership transferred to the buyer. Of course, we're talking about something that can be exactly, easily and infinitely copied, which largely undermines the value and purpose of ownership. As such, I don't think the debate is over who owns the information (the file), but whether it is possible to own information. I'm inclined to say no.
    The problem is how they sold them. Credit where credit is due, They are smart a**holes. In the TOS for purchasing they always add you do not own the data but the license to use it. Therefor they are no selling the data but the license. So they will have to treat digital files as a digital license even though they clearly are no licenses. And the thing is, a license is not transferable without the licensors permission.
    Ugh, you actually read the Terms of Service? I'm kidding, but that's the idea. Make it so long and dry that no one could possibly read it so they can slip in whatever they want.
    Tell me about it... You should read up about the steam TOS incident recently in germany. They did that exact thing.
    While I think that Redigi stand all the chances of losing this battle, they raise a legitimate concern for end music consumers; the industry needs to provide a form of resale for digital media eventually. With iTunes and Steam, for example, they have a good platform to pull this off, since the license for a particular content can be revoked, and in the case of a sync'ing iPod should be able to be enforced across devices (have a flag within iTunes that will remove a file from a device on next sync). You aren't going to guarantee that a consumer hasn't burned a copy to CD, but you can't do that with physical media either. The industry as a whole needs to start looking at how to it can better adapt their model to how consumers want to use them, because doing the contrary is only feeding users seeking alternative means of getting an illegal copy. If you make your business models attractive enough to the consumer you're going to win most of the battle off the bat instead of the constant fire-fighting. The same with the concern over inheritance that Willis raised recently; I purchase books and CDs and build up a library which I can then pass on to my kids, in the same way that books and records were passed on to me. There is no sense in me purchasing music digitally via iTunes if I cannot leave them behind for my family. When you factor in the price that is charged compared to physical media, I purchase physical media every time. Now this is not to say that the T&Cs for iTunes don't have this covered such that you accept that you can't pass these on, but that doesn't mean that I agree with it, and I hope that eventually they will change their model to address these shortcomings.
    What re-digi is doing just goes to show how pathetic and petty the industry truly is.
    They're trying to save an entire industry, can you blame them for doing so? I mean, most of us download music, but it does have an effect on that industry, we can't avoid that issue. It is really hard to have an opinion on an issue like that, but if it works, I think its a pretty good idea in the long run. I'm sure it's still in the developing stages but hopefully they'll work something out. Great article.
    On my hard drive, I have around 70 GBs of mp3s. *insert Scorsese-esque montage here*
    I can't decide if your avatar is more creepy than crazy, or more crazy than creepy. It's definitely very cool.
    >>Meanwhile, here's a cool music tool to browse. It's called Stereomood and it claims to filter new music from independent labels based on your mood. Visited >"I feel (type your mood)" >I feel shitty >"No mood found. Try another one." Thought it will deliver some dubstep. Because, you know, it pretty much sounds like shit to me.
    Well... It's hard to know how many times the mp3s were copied and where to without prying to much into the personal life of the computer.
    if enough people started to use this, it could be licensing all the songs that you sell and buy, so that they'd be harder to copy and illegally downloaded. I don't see why the industry is being so harsh on it.
    What if a person illegally downloaded hundreds of thousands of .mp3's and then sold them to ReDigi? Steal music then get paid for it. Unless you can only sell .mp3's that were purchased from other online stores or things of that nature. Those purchased .mp3's would have to have some kind of tag to show where they came from. Maybe its me, but I don't think ReDigi thought this through.
    It's basically what Amazon and iTunes does so I don't see why not, other then they don't want the competition. An MP3 file is still an MP3 file regardless of it being listened to by a user or it never clicked on and opened.
    it's not what amazon and itunes do. amazon and itunes gives credit to the labels/artists for the sale, this wouldn't.
    But it is essentially the same thing. iTunes and Amazon don't actually manufacture the files they give you. They just pay the licensing/royalties and hand out copies of digital files, then the record companies put a tick on their 'sales' counter.
    That's really not the point. Whether the music is sold as CD's or MP3's, it's still going to be a copy of the original. Physically speaking, the original is the file that was recorded in the studio. Putting it on a piece of plastic does not make it original. There's no other way of doing it though. Amazon and iTunes pay royalties for EVERY sale to the artist/label, so every time you buy a song, your money actually reaches the artist. It's not like they buy a song from the label and then sell it a million more times. Now if you come along and sell an old mp3, you get 100% of that money for it. But even if you payed for it originally, that doesn't stop you from selling it again. If there was a method to prevent multiplication and reselling of the same file, it would be fair game. Otherwise, this is even worse than conventional file sharing "piracy", because, you can not only enjoy something that you didn't pay for, but you can also make real money from something that isn't yours to sell.
    I don't see the point. If you're going to pay for something that was (probably) already illegal and the band won't see a penny of your money, why don't just buy the "legal" Mp3? With that, you help the artist, at least. Also, why people would want to buy it when they can download it for free? That does not even change the fact that the artist is suffering damage.
    This kind of service is very inviting for illegal use. It may be a 'legit' service, but the way it presents itself strikes me as highly sensitive to fraud. In other words, if they won't be outright cease-and-desisted, they will probably be told to take a step back and look at their business model - head scratching and 'wtf' facial expression optional.
    Why do we continue to rape the music industry for every last drop it has? Come on guys....just either get a subscription service or by it online.
    you guys dont even know what your talking about, i do, because i was born in 1991, you cannot and will not sell the mp3s, i mean good lord when food goes bad you dont goo hmm i think ill take this back to the market and see if theyll give me a new one, WELL THEY WONT RETARDS. GOD. IM GONNA CREAM MY CRAMBLE I SWEAR GOOOOODDDD YOUR ALL JUST SO IGNORANT BREAD SELLING DOESNT WORK WHY WOULD MP THREES OR FOURS OR FIVES!!!!!
    "you guys dont even know what your talking about, i do, because i was born in 1991" +++++ LMAO
    He unleashed the FULL FURY OF CAPS LOCK and a full five exclamation points!!!!! Also, being that he was born in 1991, he's obviously an expert. So yeah, he's got me convinced.
    The industry always wants it both ways. They claim copying mp3's is just the same as stealing a CD but when it comes to selling used mp3's and not necessarily copying them (not unlike is often done with a CD) they claim they are different. If they had their way, every medium could be bought once and then never be bought or sold again so you would be forced to buy new every time.
    If you were selling an MP3, and you hold a license to that particular MP3, would you not be selling the license itself and not the MP3? If you sell the license, than the current holder, whether or not they have subsequent copies of the MP3, would not be legally entitled to possessing that MP3. Then we come back to the same argument of illegally downloaded music. How do you stop it? You can't. The Law banning the illegal downloading is pointless and the law banning the subsequent selling of MP3's is pointless as well for the reason that people will just illegally download the song instead of purchasing from the secondary seller.
    Sign of War
    Couldn't I illegally download MP3's and then sell them?
    ReDigi has some form of 'legitimacy verification' that not only verifies that your mp3 is a legit pruchase from itunes / amazon / whatever, but also verifies that the file is deleted from your computer. I don't know if it can monitor file history i.e. copying to cd, dvd, flash drive etc.
    I just can't believe that there are people dumb enough and foolish enough with their money to actually want to buy old mp3's.
    it will sound exactly the same that if you download a song from Itunes, but cheaper and still legal. Anyway, I'll never pay for mp3's
    If this becomes a legal thing, anyone with a CD collection can be their own iTunes. Aside from the "moral implications" of simply copying an mp3, if you have the CD, you can rip it onto your computer as many times as you like. Which really isn't any different than just duplicating the file. So it's either you're allowed to sell your music regardless of format or you can't sell it at all.
    No they can't. You can only use itunes/re-digi files encoded with DRM. They require a license to play, and if you sell the license through re-digi, you will not be able to play the song without that license. Not sure how secure the itunes DRM is though. Can you play their files on a computer without itunes let alone an itunes account?
    Can some people actually read the blurb on the redigi website before just assuming how it works and where its downfalls may lie? Personally, I think it's a f***ing stupid idea... but meh.
    Their FAQ's section was amusing, to say the least. Personally I think that if they can get their verification process in order then they could be a serious competitor for Itunes. Think about it: legally buying music that has no DRM shit on it.
    I'm with Bruce Willis on this. If I buy something its mine to do with as I please. What the record corporations are saying is that its still theirs, so you are just renting it from itunes. If this is set in stone I will never buy another mp3 again, piracy all the way baby! Corporate America can lick my balls!
    I can't sell my old games on Steam, so no.
    the ramifications of this case could, if redigi win, force steam to acknowledge the rights of the users in regards to digital copies and they could end up being forced to add that in.
    Selling MP3s you don't want anymore? Sure, why not. Who cares? You bought it, it's your property. The thing is that people will cheat the system, because most people on the internet are greedy, cheap *****s. ReDigi was a good idea. And it might have worked if it weren't for all the people these days that have to exploit everything that can be exploited.
    No facking way. Worst idea ever. I mean.. Sell a file? Duplicating a file is astoundingly easy. Selling a used CD is fine, since its a one-time sell. You could sell the same songs over and over and over again. This would without a doubt kill any chance of people making money on music.
    Unless they (By necessity if not anything else), encoded an identifier to the music, something unique for each file. This could allow the files to be tracked during purchases and referenced with owners to confirm legitimacy. Something I believe should have been on these files since the internet began... The reason they are complaining is because they believe the users will copy and sell the original, but they did nothing to stop this so personally I say if they want to be retarded then they deserve to make no money.
    LOLWAT? Why they mad? Isn't iTunes (or any other digital media outlet) just as guilty of this? They have unlimited copies of all of our music and they make money from it. There's no overhead when it comes to the music. They don't buy it from artists, they just get a cut of the sales. It's pretty much like a guy borrowing CDs from all of his friends and selling burnt copies, while giving his friends like 70% of the profits. He didn't LOSE anything, but he gained quite a bit of money. I think this whole 'reselling' MP3s is interesting, but not a good or bad thing. Let them do it, if they want. The problem an MP3 isn't getting any money to the artists...and that's where the problem lies. Honestly? I found a CD on the ground, picked it up, and took it home...I wouldn't feel as though I ripped off a band..the CD had been bought. So, re-selling MP3s just seems kind of pointless unless the artists is gaining from it. Unless you had like albums upon albums that you no longer wanted..I dont see why someone couldn't try to break even...but what's stopping people from downloading torrents, for FREE, and SELLING them? That's ripping off more than the band, that's ripping off everyone.
    "[iTunes is] pretty much like a guy borrowing CDs from all of his friends and selling burnt copies, while giving his friends like 70% of the profits." Except in reality the friends all went to the guy and specifically asked him to sell them. No-one forces labels to sell through iTunes, and no-one forces artists to sign to those labels.
    Support bands and artists. Buy music from a legitimate source in which you know the artist is getting a cut of the proceeds. It's that simple. Technology is ruining everything for artists just so we can have convenient ways of purchasing, listening to, and stealing music. I, for one, want quality music, movies, and art of all kinds to continue being made. That will not happen on a great level if you can't make a living doing it.
    That Stereomood site has some cool stuff. Type in "i feel crazy" to hear some trippy stuff. WOOOOO hahaha.
    No one can predict the future, if ReDigi got hacked then that hacker can go into all of the personal data that pertains to their users and steal it. They could go into the computers and sell the non-audio data they find.
    I'm all for the music industry adapting to the 21st century, but from a civil law standpoint, it appears that ReDigi is a way for people to pay for pirating music rather than doing it for free. Verifying that no other copies of the MP3 remain under the control of the user is going to be virtually impossible.
    el tigre
    It is too easy to copy mp3s and distribute them to your friends as it is. It might be an idea, but very few people will buy mp3s this way when there are already giant programs such as iTunes where you can do this already.
    If you're going to steal a band's music, at least find some way to give that band money, by going to a show or buying a shirt or something. If you are a true fan, you will want them to keep going. People need to just not be jerks and steal stuff.
    esp 4 life
    I think everyone should just circumvent the company anyway, just give $10/20 bucks to the artist at a show and download a lossless format, cut out the greedy middlemen.
    Selling "used" mp3s? That is the lamest thing I have ever heard of. Kids will never understand what it used to be like back in the day, sometimes I wish the entire music industry would just die and everyone would stop making music because everything has become so lifeless and lame.
    copy my itunes library to disks, sell itunes library them upload disks again...i can see why the record companies are mad. cds are a much better way of producing music, it allows a band to be rated more like they used to with true record sales