Why do we put up with the format wars?

Compact disc, mp3, tape, SuperAudioCD, DVD,etc.

We as a culture enjoy music. This is something that I think most anyone can agree is a fact. Now, types of music are a completely different matter for another forum. Some prefer rap, country, rock, religious traditional, or some other type or sub-type of music that could take forever to list here.

What I am pondering as I write this blurb is how we keep allowing ourselves to be forced into the latest and greatest new medium for enjoying the music we purchase. I caught the tail-end of cassette tape’s life, and purchased several Garth Brooks albums on that medium. (Yes, I like his music and have about everything produced. Still missing the McDonald’s CD if anyone knows where I can aquire one.) When compact disc came out, I purchased everything again in that medium.

The argument here would be that compact disc was a vast improvement in sound quality and lasts much longer than tape can/could. I’m willing to accept that to a certain degree, however why do I have to pay again for the ability to listen to music I already paid to listen to? I wouldn’t mind if I could ‘trade-in’ my cassettes and pay a small fee for the cost of the CD or whatever the new medium is, but paying the same or more for a catalog album seems ridiculous to me.

Compact discs have a negligible production cost (somewhere around a couple bucks last I checked), but yet they are continually priced at a 500% profit. How much of that is seen by the artist? I would wager not much. I understand that some cost is associated with studio costs and promotion, but I doubt it takes quite the markup that we see as consumers.

Now, we are faced with the mp3 upgrade. This new round lends itself to at least one quandry unseen previously – ripping from CD to mp3. There are a few caveats to this process, the DMCA and sound quality.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) was enacted in October of 1998 by the United States Congress and effectively prohibits the legal ability for people to rip compact discs to digital format if there is any type of protection on the CD to prevent illegal copying. If any type of Digital Restriction Management (DRM) is used in a format from e-books to compact discs to anything else, it is illegal to circumvent that protection. Even if you are making a legitimate backup copy of the music you purchased for listening or placing it in your mp3 player to be more convenient, you are still violating the DMCA but probably not copyright law.

Isn’t this quite the quandry our leaders have gotten us into? You have the legal right to make a copy of a work as a backup, but you can’t make the backup or transfer it to another medium thanks to the DMCA. What kind of crap is this? It’s the kind of crap you get when the government listens to lobbyists for the music and movie labels instead of learning for themselves or listening to people who actually understand more than they do. I know everyone influences according to their opinion, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but I would think that anyone can look at this situation and see it needs revised on a grand scale.

Thanks (possibly) to the DMCA and DRM, we are forced to buy music that we have purchased once, twice, or thrice in yet another format that now costs less than even the production of  a compact disc or cassette tape.

Sound quality is yet another issue if you ignore the idiotic DMCA. When/if you rip your CDs to digital format, you must choose a bitrate (roughly the quality) to have them encoded at. Arguably 128kbps is enough quality for most people to listen to on average equipment and notice little difference if any from the CD while maintaining a pretty small file size. Other than mp3, you must choose between Ogg Vorbis, Free Lossles Audio Codec (FLAC), and many other file types to rip your music into.

Each of these formats have positive and negative aspects. You must choose which is best based on your needs or go back to the record labels and pay them for yet another format of music that you have already paid several times to have for your listening pleasure.

While I can’t support violating a law even if it is stupid and enacted by people who probably had no clue about what they were doing, I can say I very much understand if people do illegally make legal fair-use copies/backups of their media.

I know this is somewhat disjointed and does not cover all aspects, but that could take several posts that I don’t have time right now to create and research properly.