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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!