In which our intrepid hero encounters the dumbest business strategy ever.

I’ve been hard at work over the last day, adding songs to my Facebook profile in an effort to provide a broader media base for the whole Dave experience. Most people I know make pretty general assumptions about my musical tastes, and I hope to disabuse them of their preconceptions—my tastes are stranger and more diverse than most of them think.

Since it’s got me thinking about music, I’ve also taken this opportunity to clean out my mp3 player of songs I don’t really like anymore, as well as a bunch of podcasts I’m done with. In their place, I’ve been scouring my CD collection for tracks to rip to mp3. CDs (and especially their players) are bulky, inconvenient and prone to damage, in comparison to a solid-state mp3 player, so it’s only natural that I should prefer to carry one of the latter.

It used to be illegal in Australia to rip mp3s from CDs that you owned; these days, however, Australia finally has something resembling international-standard fair use provisions. Some CDs have copy protection in place to prevent the owner from ripping songs. There’s no license agreement with the CD, as you might find on software, so in essence, the protection is there to prevent an end-user from performing an otherwise legal act.

Like the CD I tried to rip a song from this morning. It was just the one song; I don’t really like the rest of the album, although I paid $20 for it. I suppose I could’ve downloaded a copy from iTunes or something, but really, if I’ve paid $20 to obtain just one song, then I object to paying any more for something I already have a legal right to copy.

It was a fairly popular song, and it appeared on a number of compilations. If I’d owned copies of them, chances are that I could’ve ripped that song from a compilation (as they’re usually not copy-protected), but I don’t, so I went the next best route: peer-to-peer. Less than 30 seconds later—and at no further cost—I had a copy on my mp3 player.

The recording industry oligopoly tries very hard to convince legislators that peer-to-peer networks cut heavily into their rightful revenues; as such, they’re an illegal form of competition to the “legitimate” record labels.

But if I have to go to an illegal file-sharing service in order to enable a legal right, then aren’t the record companies giving business away to their competitors? After all, I could easily download a large segment of the record labels’ back catalogue whilst I’m at it, further reducing their revenues.

Their uneven use of copy-protection is also questionable. I, for one, play CDs mostly on a PC, and if I have to install custom player software, then the CD goes straight back in the box. If I can’t listen to it on my mp3 player, then I’m not going to get much use out of it, either; I’ve played Massive Attack’s 100th Window, for instance, precisely once.

By creating a disincentive—however small—to purchase original albums (as opposed to downloads and/or compilation CDs), then record labels not only deny their artists exposure, but they also diminish the artists’ fanbase—the very people willing to pay through the nose for tours and to buy later albums. The record labels eat into their own revenues to protect themselves from a source of revenue loss which they can’t control anyway.

This has got to be the dumbest market-protection measure in the history of business.