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Can you Sell your MP3s? The Debate Rages On…

Before the days of digital music, there was a thriving market for second-hand recordings, and in the case of analogue records, this market still exists. Nobody really objected to records, cassettes and CDs appearing at specialist fairs and car-boot sales, even though there was never anything to indicate that the previous owner hadn’t made a copy of the recording prior to placing the original on sale.

When it comes to digital music files, the record companies are taking a more proactive stance. Both the global IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) and the UK’s BPI (now called the British Recorded Music Industry, but still generally referred to by its old acronym) are campaigning to prevent people being able to sell on their digital music (and other media such as games and movies).

Rather bizarrely, the IFPI are citing how easy it is to pass on digital music as the main reason to place a block on reselling it. They say that “physical” music is fundamentally different to digital because quality can degrade over time, and that those wishing to buy second-hand recordings must hunt them down.

There is clearly an element of the record companies attempting to close a stable door long after the horse has bolted in this case. However, music fans should perhaps have some sympathy for the efforts of the IFBI and BPI in their attempts to protect the interests of artists who have already seen their incomes suffer as a result of the move towards streaming media services rather than digital purchasing.

However, the “powers that be” don’t appear too keen to support the music industry. The UK government, specifically, have taken a very different stance.

Right now, the EU Commission are debating the issue, and the UK government have provided the following official response:

“As regards the resale of copies, the UK notes that traditional secondary markets for goods can encourage both initial purchase and adoption of technologies, and the prospect of sale on the secondary market may be factored in to an initial decision to buy and to market prices. There seems to be no reason why this should not be the case for digital copies, except for the ‘forward and delete’ issue noted by the consultation.”

While this does show that the UK recognise the fact there is nothing to stop people buying MP3s, keeping a copy and then selling them on, it seems the government is (for now, at least) unwilling to police the issue.

While the results of the EU debates will undoubtedly prove interesting, from a technical perspective, it’s impossible to imagine how this marketplace can be properly regulated anyway. Music files can be transferred in seconds, and there must be thousands of music fans out there who have imported all of their CDs to iTunes and are now wondering what to do with the boxes full of originals gathering dust in garages and attics.

On this basis, one must wonder what the debates can really produce beyond theory. People were swapping music digitally for years before the record companies even began to notice – had they been more alert to the issue, they might not still be playing “catch up” now.

IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons


Ben Taylor Ben was a geek long before "geek chic," learning the ropes on BBC Micros, before moving on to Atari STs and IBM compatibles. He was "online" using a 1200bps modem before the Internet was even a thing. Now, after two decades in the industry, he writes about technology for various publications, operates a few websites of his own, and runs a bespoke IT consultancy based in London.

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