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Do they owe it to the fans?

On a local radio station today, the DJ made reference to the station’s blog (“Do they owe it to the fans?“), but on air seemed to be asking a slightly different question to that posed on the blog. To the straight-up question, my answer is no, bands don’t owe it to their fans to tour.

However, the DJ (or someone who called in) introduced the issue of bands who rest on their laurels and issue remastered version after remixed version of their music, and live off of the income from that. To that I say, “Hey, if you (gentle reader or listener) want to pay for yet another remix of the same old song, go right ahead. But I won’t.” I’m all for residual income, but unless you actually get off your arse and do something new occasionally (and that includes touring, even if you sing your old stuff), why should I buy your old stuff, over and over again?

Which actually leads to the age-old question of old music coming out in new formats to keep up with technology. (For the sake of simplicity I’ll stick to referring to music from here on, but the same principles apply to films and any other recorded entertainment.) These days the big entertainment companies like to tell you that you have “licensed” the music that you have bought. (I don’t think you’ll find a “licence” printed on any of your old vinyl LPs!) This allows them to attach all sorts of conditions to your licence, not the least of which prevents you from making copies of said licensed material.

To that I respond that if I have bought a licence that entitles me to listen to a particular song, then I am allowed to listen to that song for the rest of my life in whatever formats exist between the time I licence it and the time I die. The licence should only apply to the song I originally bought, or any substantially similar version of the song. Therefore, if another band performs the song, or the same band records it at a concert, or the original lead vocalist records a duet with someone not a member of the band (just to give a few examples), those would be considered substantially different, and I would not be entitled to those versions of the song until I paid for a copy.

Therefore, if I bought Penny Lane in 1967, as far as I’m concerned I’m entitled to listen to the same version of Penny Lane in the comfort of my home at any time I choose by playing it on my record player, on my CD player, or on my computer (which includes whatever portable device you carry around in your pocket) from a digital file (e.g., MP3). So if I bought the right to listen to Penny Lane in 1967, then I am entitled to obtain, for free (or perhaps for a modest fee to cover materials, shipping and handling), a copy of Penny Lane on CD and MP3 and in any future recording formats. (The same applies if I lose my original copy.) If the same song is re-issued by the band twenty years later, even if the latest version is somehow technically superior, it’s substantially the same song and I’m entitled to a copy of the “new” version for free. If the company I paid in 1967 is unable or unwilling to send me a copy of Penny Lane on/in the latest format at my request, then I am entitled to obtain a copy by whatever means I deem necessary. Enter (in this day and age) file sharing.

Of course, coming up with a 44-year-old receipt to prove you’ve already paid might be a challenge!

Bizarre Virgin Mobile Terms and Conditions of Service

Occasionally I feel that I really must address my insomnia by reading the mounds of legalese shoved in my face every time I want to do anything in this modern society of ours. This is particularly important where money is involved, of course, which means all of the mindless EULAs (end user licence agreements) that I’m presented with when installing software generally get skipped. Fortunately I have an old computer that I try out new software on first, so if I missed the part in an EULA that says the software manufacturer can install viruses on my computer, it’s not a big deal because the old computer is just for testing, doesn’t contain any sensitive or important data, and can be reformatted at a moment’s notice without any hesitation.

Anyway, back to legal agreements involving money. Back in 2007 I bought a Virgin Mobile Canada cell phone. I stopped using their service a few months later because I cancelled my planned move to the new area code where I got the phone, and I gave the phone to a friend. At the time I noticed some rather bizarre wording in their “Terms and Conditions of Service”. However, as we all know, you either bend over and agree, or go and live in a cave.

Fast forward a couple of years and I bought a cell phone as a present for someone, and I decided to go with Virgin again. Another year later and I’m again looking at the “Terms and Conditions of Service”. The bizarre wording has survived at least three years, unchallenged (I assume) by anyone with the time, interest and money to pursue what surely must be a serious privacy issue. (I have the interest, but neither the time nor the money.)

Here’s the bizarre wording (which I have truncated and annotated), from the “About Content Provided By You” section:

Any Content transmitted through or to the Services by you will be considered non-confidential and non-proprietary. [Fair enough, I suppose. This is a cover-your-arse sentence in case someone manages to intercept your “content”. If I was a government spy, I’m sure my employer would give me a super secret phone that would ensure that my “content” remained confidential.] … Virgin Mobile, its Suppliers and designees will be free to copy, disclose, distribute, incorporate and otherwise use the Content and all data, images, sounds, text, and other things embodied therein for any and all commercial or non-commercial purposes. [Whoa! Seriously?! So those naked pics I sent my girlfriend are fair game, and I can expect to see them published by Virgin in a glossy magazine at some point? And what about those steamy phone conversations when I’m away from home? Broadcast on radio and television?!] You agree to grant to Virgin Mobile a non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual license, with the right to sublicense, reproduce, distribute, transmit, create derivative works of, or publicly display any Content submitted, transmitted or posted by you through or on the Services. [Hey, if you’re going to make me a reluctant porn star, at least cough up some of the dough you’ll be making off of me!]

Now, I think it’s safe for any reasonable person to assume that no sane company is going to start trawling though billions of their customers’ inane text messages — and, I might add, the “content” sent to the “services” by non-customers who have not consented to these terms — collecting the more salacious ones to make into a coffee table book. However, if Virgin were to go insane and do so, guess what? You (and I) agreed to it!

Welcome to the modern, civilised world.