In the United Kingdom, music retailer HMV is on life support. Although HMV Canada’s parent company is mounting a rescue attempt, the brand responsible for 35% of the CD market in Britain may soon collapse, in large part due to the shift towards purchasing music online. While many consumers would rather buy their music from Apple or Amazon, software freedom activist Richard Stallman argues that there are serious repercussions to buying music online instead of in record stores.
Danny Kelly says good riddance to HMV because it was sickly for some years before it died. I suggest however that the fact it took time to die does not make its loss (and that of its high street competitors) any less regrettable. What replaced them is a disaster for freedom.
I miss stores like HMV because I could go there with cash, buy records (usually CDs), and take them home as mine. These large stores had a wide range of music, and I could listen to records in-store (mostly music I had never heard of) to find what I liked. Once I had bought the records, I was free to give or lend them to friends. Under copyright law, I could even copy them, to audio tapes in the old days, and give those to my friends. All this without the state’s knowing anything about it.
You can’t buy music that way on the internet. You are forced to identify yourself to the seller (and to Big Brother, watching over his shoulder) — and if it’s not a CD, you have to sign a restrictive contract which denies you the rights we all enjoyed. I say “you” because I won’t go there.
For those who love both music and freedom, today’s form of internet sales is out of the question, which leaves ever fewer opportunities for us to buy music. Aside from disks sold by musicians, and a few surviving large record stores such as Amoeba in San Francisco, the only way a self-respecting person should get copies of music is through digital sharing.
The superficial convenience of internet music sales is the bait; in the UK, the Digital Economy Act is the jaws. And HMV was the safe and ethical road to music, which a society focused on the short term has not kept open.