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.

Industry Opinion: Can We Sell Old MP3s?
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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

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    Jesus_Dean
    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?
    Kueller917
    Well it's no different than making a copy of a CD, then selling your original CD.
    Smegal
    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...
    TooktheAtrain
    Actually, CDs are by definition 'digital', the only difference here is the delivery method.
    Smegal
    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.
    limpidgreen345
    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.
    nick1227
    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.
    Smegal
    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...
    G0dzilla
    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.
    plindqui
    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
    Crazyedd123
    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.
    leony03
    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?
    Crazyedd123
    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.
    leony03
    Yeah exactly. It shouldnt be too hard to implement and would give both the writers and users information they both want.
    UGtom
    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.
    Smacked
    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.
    K!!LsWiTcH
    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?
    dewitt
    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.
    K!!LsWiTcH
    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
    Smacked
    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!
    baumaxx1
    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.
    baumaxx1
    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.
    seventh_angel
    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.
    Lightning_Ray
    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.
    adambauman31
    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...
    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.
    Benjumanji
    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.
    CITIZEN SNIPS!!
    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.
    Smegal
    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.
    a7xb4d
    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.
    Smegal
    Tell me about it... You should read up about the steam TOS incident recently in germany. They did that exact thing.
    Kassidy
    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.
    Whiskas
    Industry That world says it all. Support the indie labels guys, music never was meant to be a mass product.
    UGtom
    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!
    Whiskas
    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.
    UGtom
    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.
    Whiskas
    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.
    UGtom
    "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!
    Whiskas
    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.
    Gortorek
    What re-digi is doing just goes to show how pathetic and petty the industry truly is.
    goingnowhere21
    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.
    ali.guitarkid7
    On my hard drive, I have around 70 GBs of mp3s. *insert Scorsese-esque montage here*
    TombOfHorror
    I can't decide if your avatar is more creepy than crazy, or more crazy than creepy. It's definitely very cool.
    Dude475
    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.