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The Digital Music Revolution Essay, Research Paper

Every day, billions and billions of bytes of information trade hands over the Internet. Often, this data is copyrighted, thereby making its sharing illegal. Information can range from online books to computer applications, games, movies, and even cross-stitch needlework patterns. But possibly the largest percentage consists of one specific kind of media: digital music.

Programs have popped up all over the market to take part in this mass media exchange. Gnutella, Scour, iMesh, CuteMX, and the leader of the music revolution, the almighty Napster, are some popular examples, although these are just a few. Controversy over digital media is widespread, and legal action is being taken by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) against many of these companies. You might ask yourself how all of this began. The digital music revolution happened because of the creation of the MP3 digital media compression standard.

MP3 is short for MPEG-1 Layer 3 (Moving Pictures Expert Group), a format for storing digital audio.

It [MP3] uses an advanced type of audio compression which reduces the filesize with little reduction in quality. MP3 is used particularly for music distribution over the Internet, but is also used for other purposes such as real-time digital audio transmissions over ISDN (used by reporters). MPEG-1 has been around since 1992, but during the last few years (1998/99) it has started to get widespread attention from regular media and ordinary users. (What is MP3)

In simple terms, this means that, using this kind of compression, digital music files can be shrunk so that they can be transferred faster over the Internet. “Without audio coding, downloading uncompressed high-quality audio files from a remote Internet server would result in unfavorably long transmission times” (FAQ).

The MP3 standard impacted the music industry almost overnight. People began “ripping” their music (extracting songs from a CD) and converting them into MP3’s, then sharing their collection with other users like themselves all over the world, using the internet.

However, this doesn’t explain the speed with which this revolution occurred. Just because some new technology is available on the market doesn’t mean it will be put to use right away. Video phones are a good example of this. We have had the technology for video phones for many years, yet even today they are hard to find. This is because the current telephone system infrastructure has been an adequate, efficient solution. So what made MP3 technology so hot, so fast?

The answer lies in the way record companies market music. This is the way the system works: the average consumer hears a song on the radio or at a dance club, likes it, and goes to the store to buy the CD. The CD is pretty expensive, about fifteen bucks on average. Why? Because there are a bunch of other songs on the CD. Singles are available, but they are usually more expensive than the album. The consumer ends up with a CD of twelve or fifteen songs, only one or two of which they like. Then, whenever they want to listen to music, they pop in the CD, listen to one or two songs, switch CDs, etc., etc.

Therein lies the appeal of digital music. The same consumer can get on the Internet, search for the song that they wanted, download it, transfer it between their computer or personal MP3 player, and listen to it, all for free. In the case of copyrighted music, this is illegal. But in comparison, people have been recording copyrighted programs and movies off of television and sharing them ever since the creation of the VCR. Digital music is twice as easy to record, and infinitely easier to share. As you can see, the temptation to bend the law here is very enticing.

The RIAA has committed itself to put an end to copyright infringement through digital music. “Since MP3 opened the floodgates and showed people how easy and flexible digital music downloads can be, the record industry has faced a big challenge in creating a system that matches MP3’s ease of use and controls distribution and copyrights” (Jones). Many plans are being considered, but few concrete decisions have been made. The SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) is a music industry organization formed to create a new digital music standard that protects copyrights. This will not be an easy task.

At the forefront of this effort is the Secure Digital Music Initiative, a consortium of record labels, consumer-electronics companies and information-technology firms trying to develop new standards for digital music and the devices that play it–standards more to its liking than the unprotected MP3 files being so freely traded. Through a combination of encryption and watermarks–technology that controls the way in which digital music is replayed–the sdmi hopes to combine the ease of use and freedom of choice of Napster while protecting the interests of artists and their distributors. (Cohen)

The future of the digital music revolution is difficult to predict. But one thing’s for sure: the revolution has begun.

Bibliography

Cohen, Adam. “Napster the Revolution.” CNN.com 25 September 2000. 1 October 2000 .

FAQ about MPEG Audio Layer-3, Fraunhofer-IIS, and all the rest…. Ed. Harald Popp. Vers. 2.60. 29 July 1996. 1 October 2000 .

What is MP3?. The MP3 Place. 1 October 2000 .

Jones, Christopher. “SDMI: Divide or Conquer?” Wired News 18 November 1999. 1 October 2000 .


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