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I've been avoiding iTunes as a consumer and a producer with only the vaguest thought for why it rubbed me the wrong way, other than (i) the evil record companies haven't shut it down so it must be bad, (ii) $1.00 a song seems way too high for a compressed file when more good ones than you could ever listen to can be found free on the web, (iii) fads suck and Apple, after being the cool company for so many years, is starting to suck, and (iv) headphones for recreational listening are bad for your long-term hearing.

Thanks to Francis Hwang for linking to the musicians' rights organization Downhill Battle, which has this page up explaining exactly what's wrong with iTunes and proposing a much more wholesome scheme called "voluntary collective licensing." One good reason for avoiding the iTunes empire is
Despite huge new efficiencies created by internet distribution--no CDs to make, no distributors to store and ship them, no CD stores to build and run--artists receive the same pathetic cut [as they do from their exploitative record contracts]. That is the disaster of iTunes. Instead of using this new medium to empower musicians and their fans, it helps the record industry cartel perpetuate the exploitation. Apple might say it's not their fault: after all, they didn't write the unfair record contracts. But when Apple supports and profits from an obviously unfair system, while telling customers that it's "fair to the artists," they are just as guilty. [Per Downhill Battle, Apple recently removed the claim that iTunes is "fair to the artists" from their website.]
Hwang recently had a run-in with the not-so-benevolent Apple when he put a parody iPod up for sale on eBay. Referencing the infamous early copyright debacle where rich rockers U2 went after indies Negativland and bled them dry from legal fees for no apparent reason other than because they could, Hwang sold an actual, functioning, repackaged-but-not-otherwise-altered iPod loaded with eight Negativland albums, "to get you started in your subversive listening habits." This was clearly an art project, prank, legitimate act of protest, or what have you; proceeds were to go the the aforementioned Downhill Battle.

The humorless Apple predictably stopped the eBay sale. Hwang received an email from the online auctioneer telling him "We would like to let you know that we removed your listing: 2290680118 Unauthorized iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition because an intellectual property rights owner notified us, under penalty of perjury, that your listing infringes the rights owner's copyright, trademark, or other rights." (Perjury means lying under oath. I assume this means Apple had to swear the infringement claim was valid. It could be clearer.)

Hwang's project is further explained in Rhizome's Net Art News, which perhaps goes a tad light on the heavies ("Apple contributed to the poetry of the object" by stopping the sale?), and on this page of Hwang's. His first iPod is no longer for sale, but a second version is included in Negativland's current show, which I haven't seen, at Gigantic Art Space in NYC.

- tom moody 9-12-2005 2:12 am [link]