When Is An Audio CD Not An Audio CD?

Reader Matt V. called our attention to Ben Laurie’s blog. Ben recently purchased a Beth Orton CD from Amazon, only to discover that it had DRM on it that prevented him from playing it on his computer. Ben has since returned the CD to Amazon and filed a complaint against them with the Trading Standards Authority (a UK consumer rights organization) that Amazon is dishonestly calling it an “Audio CD”. Ben argues it isn’t an Audio CD, because he can’t play it on his computer.

We think Ben’s on the wrong track. A copy-protected album isn’t an Audio CD? Of course it is. It’s a CD, it plays audio — it’s just one needlessly crippled. We sympathize with Ben’s argument, but the bottom line is that this tactic is just a waste of time and degrades the argument. It is the sort of sullen semantic whinging that any teenager in a freshman philosophy course can be successful at making, yet never win his argument. And what is the argument? It’s not what a legally purchased album is, but what rights you have as its owner.

Further thoughts on your rights as a CD owner after the jump…

What record companies are trying to do is claim that when you have bought a CD, you don’t own it — you’ve merely licensed the rights to listen to it. There is no contract, no negotiable terms and conditions — tearing open the cellophane is enough. Not only is it not a legally valid contract but it is absolutely lop-sided, allowing companies to silently change the rights they grant you without notification or consent. We, as consumers, not only need to fight the record companies’ assertions, but strongly argue our own rights as well — that when you buy a CD, you have the right to play it on whatever hardware is capable of doing so, whenever you feel like it, even if it’s been translated by you into a different format. If the record company had its way, if it is allowed to get the DRM foothold that it wants, you won’t be able to play your albums on your computer or on your iPod. You won’t be able to sell a used CD or lend it to a friend. And if you want to listen to music you legally own in another format, you’ll have to buy another copy. The record companies will have all the rights and you’ll have none.

If Ben wins his semantic victory, what then? Amazon changes all listings of Audio CDs to the equally generic “Album” and Ben’s accomplished nothing. Semantic arguments are cheap — it’s tirelessly asserting the rights you believe you have and boycotting products when they don’t grant you those rights that is the essence of good consumerism.

Amazon and Trade Descriptions [Ben Laurie’s Links (Thanks, Matt!)
Amazon and Trade Descriptions, Round 2 [Ben Laurie’s Links]