Record companies sue XM over recorder; What exactly does it mean to buy music, anyway?

News that XM is being sued by the record companies for introducing the Inno – essentially, a “TiVo for radio” – makes us mad enough to go out and buy one immediately, just to screw with the labels. But before we lash out at the world’s favorite boogeyman, the shiftless record executive, let’s look at what’s really at issue here.

As the Wall Street Journal reports today,

“satellite-radio devices…blur the distinction between listening to a song and owning it…The issue stems from the type of payment, known as performance rights fees, that XM pays the music industry for the right to broadcast songs. Those fees are much lower than the payments the industry would get if XM cut a deal to sell the songs. XM has contended the stored songs aren’t true sales, in part because they stay on the radio only as long as the owner remains a subscriber to XM, and can’t be moved, say onto a computer or another music device.”

Well, then, what the hell is “a sale”? It’s the exchange of goods or services for money. The question is, is recorded music played on a satellite radio “goods” or “services” ?

If songs recorded by Inno were “goods,” wouldn’t they be yours to do with what you pleased? After all, once you own a car, you can polish it, cruise for chicks with it, or drive it into the Grand Canyon with the police hot on your tail. As sucho, XM songs recorded on an Inno clearly aren’t goods.

So, in effect, what XM’s doing is providing a service, right? You can experience the song, but you aren’t free to transfer it to tape, or burn it to a CD. It’s kind of like hiring a masseuse – but for your ears.

Except for this: Once a sevice is provided, that’s it. You want another massage? That’s $65 bucks pal. Plus tip.

So, XM’s Inno song player isn’t providing goods, and it isn’t really providing a service, either, because if you want to hear the song all over again, you just hit the “play” button.

What you’ve done, dear XM subscriber and Inno owner, is essentially licensed the song, to use in the soundtrack of your life. What’s that? You don’t want to pay costly license fees to the record companies? You think XM should?

But we thought you hated record companies?

Wait! Come back here!

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