How I Became A Music Pirate

Does DRM drive even honest well-meaning people to piracy? Yes, of course it does.

Reader and music lover Jarrett tried to send the following “detailed, passionate complaint letter” to Rhino, but their only reply was:

450 Server configuration problem

Good for us, because Jerrett decided to send his letter to us. So, without delay, here is “How I Become A Music Pirate” by Jarrett.

Jarrett writes:

How I Became A Music Pirate

I thought I was the music industry’s dream consumer.

As a 40 year old male with a long-standing passion for “all things music,” I’ve spent a bundle on my collection. In college most of my waking hours were spent wandering around record stores, swap meets and record conventions, much to the dismay of the women I was ostensibly dating. Then again, the fact that I also worked as a DJ at the radio station and hung out with obsessive record collector types probably didn’t help matters in the romance department.

Then while in grad school in the 1990s, I became busy replacing many of my vinyl releases with CD’s. At the same time, entrepreneurial music industry types began to exploit the market for out-of-print recordings by reissuing long out-of-print records on CD formats, which of course I instantly snapped up.

So here I sit circa 2007 with a house filled with over 1000 vinyl records and around 800 CD’s. If you figure about $12 per recording as an accurate average, that’s somewhere around $20,000. Not a bad chunk of change for the music business, I say.

Last week while I was busy importing my CD’s into iTunes so I could listen to them on my iPod (a most tedious task), I hopped on the internet. iTunes was busy importing a Luna CD, one of my favorite bands, so I decided to see what they were up to since they disbanded a few years back. After a few clicks in Google, I found a blog site describing a posthumous, internet-only release of a collection of covers the band had recorded throughout their career. While I already had many of the songs (they were often featured on b-sides and imported singles, etc.), I couldn’t resist tracking down this compilation. As I read further on the blog site I encountered a link to a .zip file containing the entire collection ripped as 128kbps mp3’s.

While I must admit being tempted to simply click away and download the collection, I though to myself, “Well, if I buy the music it’s only $10, and this way I will get high quality .WAV files. Besides, it’s not like Luna were getting rich off of their careers, they could use the money…”

So I headed to Rhino’s online store, purchased the music, and downloaded the files.

A little later that evening, I tried to move the .WMA files into iTunes, when I received an error message telling me that iTunes could not import them because they were copy protected. I downloaded the files again (which took another 12 minutes) and again, the same message.

So I called Rhino customer support and after an 8 minute wait spoke with a representative. She informed me that the files were indeed copy protected so that I could only play them on specific music players, most notably not iTunes.

“You don’t understand,” I said, “These files were not copied or pirated, I actually purchased them.”

“Well” she responded, “You didn’t actually purchase the files, you really purchased a license to listen to the music, and the license is very specific about how they can be played or listened to.”

Now I was baffled. “Records never came with any such restrictions,” I said.

She replied, “Well they were supposed to, but we weren’t able to enforce those licenses back then, and now we can”

She later went on to explain that I could burn the songs to a CD and listen to them in a regular CD player, but I would need an additional Windows based music player to listen to them on my computer. But either way, she suggested there was no way the files could be played on my iPod.

Frustrated, I hung up and began my search for a Windows application to allow me to burn the music to a CD. After downloading Nero and firing it up, imagine my frustration when I receive another error message telling me it cannot locate the licenses for the music I purchased.

I call Rhino again, and this time speak to a young male CSR. He explains that I need updated licenses in order to burn the music and often the problem is that many firewalls will allow the music to pass through the firewall, but not the licenses because of their encryption schemes. Lest you think I am exaggerating, I included below the following text from their website (apparently this is a big enough problem that it warrants mentioning in their FAQ):

1. Temporarily disable all firewall and pop-up blocker software you may be running on your computer.

2. Attempt the download again

If the Licensing portion of the download is still hanging, please update the Digital Rights Management (DRM) component on your computer via the following URL:

The friendly CSR representative then suggests that I try once more to download the files and licenses and if I still have no luck to try accessing the internet from other providers such as a local coffee shop, library, or work computer.

“Basically, just keep downloading the music until you find a gateway that let’s your licenses through without problems”

While I would like to say I responded with something witty, I must admit to being completely flummoxed. There I sat, a loyal music fan who has shelled out actual money to a business that is supposed to be having financial problems, and the best they can do is tell me to wander the streets of Seattle looking for different internet providers who might allow me to download the music that I have already paid for, music that I have spent the better part of three house trying to listen to, and which is still unusable?

How on earth have things come to this?!?!?!

Honestly, if this is the best you can do, you’re business is in really, really serious trouble.

I mean, could you imagine the consumer response if Coke could only be consumed from specific Coke-approved equipment, and then only in the specific ways that the folks at Coke wanted the product to be consumed. “drinking Coke with fast food is no problem, but we must warn you that your license forbids the mixing of Coke with any alcoholic beverages…”

In the end, I never was able to get the music to play on anything–my computer, on a CD or on my iPod. I invested $10, several hours of my time, and my reward was, well, nothing.

I’d like to say I was outraged, but in the end I must admit to feeling remarkably sad and deflated over the whole process. See, the thing is, I was raised on music. I was saved by music. I (used to) live for music. Lester Bangs wasn’t my idol, he was my soul mate (in a matter of speaking).

I’ve devoted a not-inconsequential chunk of my life to collecting music; to tracking down obscure records, cassettes, 8-Tracks and CD’s of all genres and styles. And now apparently that is all but over. Music has somehow evolved from tangible things into amorphous collections of 1’s and 0’s guarded over by interested parties as if they were gold bullion. How so very sad.

I would like to think that someone at a place like Rhino would care enough to not let these kinds of things happen. But alas, my suspicion is that anyone who would have been cool enough to work at Rhino in their heyday some twenty years ago would never be so callous, foolish or shallow to allow these kind of absurdities to occur.

Since I’ve resigned myself not to waste any more time with the music business, I suppose I’ll have to resort to purchasing used CD’s & records, or having my friends occasionally make me a copy of one of their newer CD’s.

Call it piracy. Call it whatever you want. But at least I tried. I gave you several chances and you failed miserably at every level.


Well, it’s a good thing you stopped Jarrett from sharing his files on the internet. Imagine! Losing a good customer! Oh wait. It’s not free music that drives some people to piracy, it’s the lack of a quality product from legitimate music sources. —MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: Burnsland)