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The bits and pieces of this are, at first, going to flitter around like pieces of jigsaw puzzle caught in the wind but trust me: it will all come together soon enough.

Time was I felt guilty about downloading mp3 files. I would inevitably start thinking about all the money I was robbing the recording artists of--money that fed their families, paid their doctor bills, kept the private nurses coming to houses of their aged parents day after day, made sure their kids got a good education, and, of course, ensured them a comfortable retirement. I was scum for stealing from them. I was ruining their lives. I was taking food from their childrens' mouths.

Yes, time was I felt incredibly guilty about downloading mp3s.

Not any more.

I want to make it clear right up front that I am second to none when it comes to those who disdain the illegal reproduction and distributing of copyrighted material. I make my living as a professional writer and I can tell you from experience that the copyright notice is often-times the only thing you've got to protect your work once it leaves your hands. I once almost lost the badly-needed money from a reprint sale because a zealous fan posted an excerpt from said story on their website. While it was flattering to discover that someone thought enough of a piece of my work to post it so that others would be introduced to my work, it was a copyright infringement. I wrote to said fan, thanked them for being so enthusiastic about my work, and asked them to take the excerpt down. I told them that once the reprint sale had gone through and I'd cleared it with the editor/publisher, they could re-post it. They apologized, agreed to take down the excerpt, and told me they had no idea what they'd done was a copyright infringement.

No, I'm not going to berate E2ers on the subject of copyright infringement. I tell you the previous story so that you'll know that what I am about to say I say only after having given it much thought; I tell you this next story so that you'll know I actually have a conscience about these things.

I am a huge fan of Steve Morse. I have almost everything he's ever recorded--solo albums, albums with Kansas, Deep Purple, The Dixie Dregs, and, natch, The Steve Morse Band. A few months ago I discovered, much to my delight, that The Steve Morse Band had released a new album. There was much celebrating and glee when this discovery was made--

--until I went to buy it.

Like Ponce De Leon searching for the Fountain of Youth, my quest dragged on. Music store after music store did I check, sometimes forgetting to eat or bathe or bestow any remnant of affection on those I loved. Dark circles formed under my eyes. My fingernails grew long. At one point my pants and underwear walked off on their own. I began speaking in tongues from lack of sleep. People crossed the street to avoid passing near me. Dogs who, at any other time, would sniff the dirty asses of almost any living creature, howled in horror as they smelled my approach.

I was undaunted.

Looking more and more like Charles Manson's less-stable brother, I ran, walked, hitchhiked, stumbled, sauntered, moseyed, crawled, and bumbled my way to each store in search of the elusive Steve Morse album. I frightened cashiers. Made managers nervous. Caused several infants to scream in terror.

I did not care.

The album existed and, by-God, by-thunder, buy-bonds, I WAS GOING TO HAVE IT!

No luck. Not one bloody store anywhere in the city of Columbus had it. I tried ordering it online only to discover that it was no longer in stock or that more copies were expected soon.

After screaming my frustration to the heavens, thrusting my fists deep into the guts of grandfather clocks, and chasing down my prodigal pants and underwear (remember from six paragraphs ago? Try to keep up with this dramatic narrative, will you?), I finally threw up my hands as well as the contents of my stomach and surrendered.

I would go online and download the mp3 of the album and try to live with the guilt of Steve Morse's starving children. I would bear the shame. Hell would be too good for the likes of me. (I am a recovering Catholic, guilt is our thing.)

But download it I did. And it was, as I knew it would be, a stunning album.

About a month later, whilst wandering the Short North area with Lucy-S and friends, we happened into a CD store and--lo and behold!--there, in their bins, nestled safely between Morrisey and Van Morrison (music clerks are not know for their impeccable cataloguing abilities), sat the very Steve Morse Band album I had searched for seemingly since Reagan was in office.

I bought it, thus lifting the guilt of Morse's starving family from my shoulders.

You see, I actually try to be a decent sort of mp3-downloader: I honest-to-God (or whoever's running this freak show) use it to preview music so I can decide whether or not I want to buy it. And once I buy it, I dispose of the downloaded files and rip my own from my bought-and-paid-for CD. And I listen to it as I write the stories that nice editors buy from me so that I can keep a roof over my head and put food on the table and medicine in my rapidly-deteriorating system and, when finances permit, a new CD into my collection, thus ensuring that the Ouroboros-like circle of creativity and commerce remains unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by.

Why do I tell you all this?

Because of the soundtrack to the new movie, Daredevil.

I saw this movie a few nights ago and, while there were several elements about it I liked (the dingy look is incredible), overall I left the theater with a shrug and an "Eh."

The music on the soundtrack, however, was terrific. Graeme Revell provides a solid underscore, and the songs--by artists such as Revis, Moby, and Fuel--are what the kids today call "kick-ass."

Not having the money yet to buy the soundtrack album, I went online to download a few to hold me over until said album could be purchased.

Well, guess what? I have made an interesting discovery: every song on the Daredevil has been encoded so that, if you rip it to an mp3, the file plays back the song with a prolonged and annoying sound effect repeated every 30 seconds or so. Phone beeps, busy signals, radio static--you name it, it's there. In every effing song!

Undoubtedly by this time next week some computer whiz out there will have figured out how to fix this, but as I listened to the songs and found the encoding on each one, a question crossed my mind:

What are you supposed to do if you actually paid for this shit?

Imagine: You plunk down 15 bucks or so for the soundtrack, take it home and rip it to your computer so you can add it to your music library and enjoy listening to it, and upon playback discover that each and every song on the damn thing has been encoded so that you can't listen to it in this format.

But you paid for it, you did the honorable thing, you didn't steal anything (as so many claim that downloading mp3s is); you were honest. So why can't you do with it in the privacy of your own listening space what you please?

The answer is simple: because the recording industry doesn't care.

As I said before, I do not condone the illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material--I think that downloading music is too often abused by people, but we're not here to talk about my dreadful personality problems--but when the recording industry does something like this, it puts a gun to the consumer's head and says, "You can listen to this music that we've just charged you for, but you can listen to it only under our conditions. We now have your money and there's not a damn thing you can do about it."

Time was I felt guilty about downloading mp3 files. Time was I tried to be an honest consumer and purchase previously-downloaded music. Time was I was stupid enough to believe that the recording industry might still possibly, maybe, just perhaps have a smidgen of respect left for the consumer. Hardee-dee-har-har-har.

If the Daredevil soundtrack is a sign of what is to come from the recording industry, if it's any indication of the contempt it has for the consumers who help them pad their expense accounts (so much so that there is now a proposal for a piracy tax to be added onto each CD-R purchase), if we will soon have no choice but listen to music only in the formats which they will allow us, then fuck 'em.

Go out there and steal all the music you can.

I know I will.

And won't feel the least bit guilty about it. Not any more.

Update: I get all my music off the Apple iTunes Store these days; I started using the service once I discovered it. Good selection, fair price, though I'm annoyed no end that the protected files won't play on most MP3 players. And it's perhaps a little too easy to use; I spent enough over the past year to induce threats of severe beatings from my girlfriend when she found out.

I still believe the copy protections I outlined above are over the line and anticonsumer and should be fought tooth and nail. Some have claimed I'm a hypocrite because of what I've said here but you don't see book publishers implementing steps like changing type to a blue on a fine background of dots so that text can't be photocopied or easily scanned. The book publishing industry is no fount of nobility, but they aren't out to fleece consumers for every penny they can grub, either.

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