I've been struggling to connect to the Blogger post page for the last few hours and only just managed to; my net connection's been crawling lately. So anyway, I originally intended to post about two seperate issues, but seeing as I'm not sure I'll get the chance to make another post, I've decided to post about reactions to Singapore's anti-CD-ripping policy first.
The other thing I wanted to blog about is regarding Intel's new VIIV line of processors (pronounced Vive), but you can check out the news directly at AnandTech, who have a journalist reporting directly from the current IDF. I might post again about this later or perhaps tomorrow, bandwidth permitting.
So, I was reading a couple of posts on both mrbrown and Union Post regarding the recent case of three people being charged for illegal file-sharing back home in sunny Singapore, and their reactions to Singapore's "anti-CD-ripping" law. While I have no problems with mrbrown, who seems like quite an intelligent writer and wrote in a very open manner, soliciting better-informed responses, the Union Post article rubbed me the wrong way. It seems to me that writers who've been around since 1999 (as they claim) would do a little more research before posting outright criticisms of a policy they don't seem to know much about.
Truth be told, I'm actually quite surprised this issue is only hitting Singapore now, since it's been popping up in most "developed" nations for a few years now. Granted, Singapore's had problems with piracy for a long time now, with the authorities largely turning a blind eye to it till pressured by the corporations to uphold the law, and I suppose that probably goes some way to explaining the average Singaporean's relative ignorance about such issues.
As I understand it, reactions have been harsh against the "anti-CD-ripping" policy, which was recently brought to public attention, that basically states that it is illegal to rip (or record digitally) any music from a copyrighted CD, even if said CD has been paid for.
Now this may strike many as strange; if I've already paid for the music on the CD, why shouldn't I be allowed to do with it as I please? Why shouldn't I be allowed to "transfer" that music (which I've paid for, by the way) to my PC/laptop/iPod/MP3 player/whatever?
The simplest of answers is this: when you pay for the CD, you're paying for the right to listen to the music that has been recorded onto that CD, but only if you're listening to it using that CD. The media plays a huge part in the equation. The reasons behind this are obvious: if you're allowed to rip the CD to a digital form, there's nothing preventing you from copying, transferring, burning or otherwise making more copies of that music and passing it to others who haven't paid for the right to listen to it. It's like buying a DVD, then recording it to VCR; people do it, but that doesn't change the fact that it's illegal.
Granted, many countries have a "fair use" policy which allows you to rip music from a CD and have a certain number of copies of it for use on your mp3 player, backup, what-have-you. But the problem with such a policy lies in proving that someone has actually made more than the allowed number of copies. With p2p programmes, you could upload a file to 100 different computers and still only have that one file on your computer. So what's the easiest and most efficient solution? Don't allow for any copies to be made.
Well then, doesn't that mean that my iPod (etc.) is just a very expensive paperweight? Of course not. You can still rip audio CDs that aren't copy-protected (like certain independent bands and the majority of garage bands). In fact, that's (supposedly) the main purpose of the CD-ripping and recording software bundled with most music players.
Then of course there are the online stores like iTunes, which allow you to buy music in digital format. The key difference between buying a track off iTunes and ripping it off a CD, though (besides the fact you have to pay for it), lies in Digital Rights Management (DRM).
DRM technology is basically additional encoding within a music (or any other) file that allows for very specific use of that file. Maybe it doesn't allow you to make other copies of the file. Maybe (especially if it's a sample) it only allows you to keep a file for a certain period of time before deleting itself. Or perhaps it only allows you to use the file on the machine you downloaded it to. One way or another, DRM sets very specific parameters within which you can use a particular file, and this is yet another way the recording industry prevents the blatant copying and transfering of their copyrighted material.
That actually brings home the reason why the RIAs of the various countries despise the mp3 format so much; up till now, the standard still doesn't support DRM. That's why when you buy songs online, you rarely see them coming in mp3 format.
But wait, it doesn't make sense to have to pay for music I already legally own! Well, not if you put it that way. But let's say you own a game on the Xbox, say Brothers in Arms. After playing it for a while, you find you would much rather play it on the PC (because FPS should be played with a mouse, after all). If you now want to play BiA on the PC, and assuming you could find an Xbox emulator for the PC (don't bother looking; I made that up), would it be legal to rip the Xbox game and install on the PC for play? Of course not. Even though it's essentially the same game you're playing. Why? Because they're not the same media/format.
Furthermore, no one's saying you have to pay twice for the same music. What is required is better decision making. If you want to listen to the music on your iPod, buy it digitally. If you want to listen to it on your stereo, buy the CD. In fact, most (above average) stereos allow for line-in nowadays, and iPod allows you to transmit music over radio waves (with the add-on), so it shouldn't even be that huge an issue. And in my personal experience, only a few tracks on any CD (the ones you hear on the radio) are ever any good, anyway. But of course, that could just be me.
At the end of the day, the police aren't going to start arresting everyone who walks out their front door with an iPod in hand. Just like how they aren't going to arrest 5 high school students sitting in the corner of Dhoby Ghaut MRT talking at the top of their voices and drawing weird stares from passers-by for "illegal gathering" and "disrupting the peace". Those laws are in place for the very same reason this one is: in case they need to invoke such authority. Does that mean they're pointless or ineffective? Not as long as people know they exist and are aware that they may possibly be held liable for these actions. And after this hoo-hah, it can fairly safely be said that a lot more people know that such a policy exists, eh?