Thursday, 20 May 2010

Bohemian Rhapsody

Call me a weirdo, but I love music. Love requires dedication, and in my case I’ve been neglectful; since entering the professional career stage of my life music’s role has been gradually diminishing, to the point I’m quite detached from the music scene and I can live my life happily without listening to much music – a situation I was simply unable to tolerate before. So I thought I’d make an effort to relight the fire and practice what I have recently preached: I thought I’d join the Rhapsody service.
Rhapsody allows you to stream music of your choice through the internet at respectable quality. You can listen as much as you want to any of the nine million songs they have on their catalog for a flat fee of $12 a month. I figured this budget CD worth of music per month, cost wise, is something I’d be able to live with if it means having such a huge catalog of music available to me wherever my browser is: at home, on my iPhone, and even on the hi-fi. I’ve even experimented, connecting my old Asus Eee PC 701 to the hi-fi to listen to high quality web streaming (courtesy of 3RRR) with some very promising results.
The ground was set for a revolution in my music consumption. The result, however, was anything but; I’m about to tell you what took place, but let me start with the conclusion: my experience with Rhapsody has confirmed to me once again that the content distribution companies are only interested in maintaining their bear hug over their precious existing business model. They don’t care about the artist and they certainly don’t care about the listener/consumer. They don’t even care for the potential hike in revenues they may have if internet based music services really take off. They’re idiots, and we have to suffer their idiocy through the limitations they’re artificially imposing on the music available to us.
With that in mind, let me tell you of my grueling experience with Rhapsody.

In order to be on the safe side, I decided to start my exposure to Rhapsody by installing their free iPhone application first. I clicked on the iPhone link at the Rhapsody website, which started iTunes… and brought up this nice search results screen that did not include Rhapsody in it.
That was strange. Surely, an app like that can’t just disappear? So I tried it again and again, only to find – eventually – that the Rhapsody app is available only in the iTunes USA store. Silly me, I tried using iTunes Australia!
So I thought what the hell, I might as well open an account with iTunes USA. It will only take me two minutes; it’s not like I don’t have any other online USA accounts. So I started creating such an account.
It didn’t take too long – in fact, it was after the first step – that my attempt at creating an American iTunes account was put to a halt. The first screen Apple puts in your way to creating the account is a screen saying that you must use applications bought in their USA shop inside the USA. It reminded me of a similar statement they’ve made back when I opened my Aussie iTunes account. Pretty silly of Apple to come up with such a demand, isn’t it? For a start, haven’t they heard of global roaming, or am I expected to delete all the apps on my iPhone before venturing out of Australia?
The point is that Apple is pretty serious. Google it and you will see plenty of stories coming from people whose iTunes accounts were deleted altogether by Apple (without warning) for such national infringements. That is, for buying an app from the USA in order to use it in another country.
Apple is a two faced company, and now I have the proof for it. Apple does not have the least bit of a problem when it is using British engineers employed in San Francisco offices to come up with designs that are manufactured in China, but when it comes to us users they’re suddenly an anti globalization advocate. They divide and conquer.
Well, fuck you, Apple. I sincerely hope my next phone would be an Android.

Having given up on the iPhone Rhapsody app did not mean that I gave up on Rhapsody altogether. Sure, using it on the move would be a problem, but it could still be worthwhile to use it at home – where the bulk of my listening is.
So I went ahead and clicked the Rhapsody link to start a two week trial. And… then I got this nice error message saying Rhapsody is not available in my region of the world. Ain’t that great! I was actually left puzzled: I know that I can go to a hi-fi shop and buy Sonus equipment that allows me to listen to Rhapsody through my stereo, or at least that I used to be able to do that; so what went wrong since? And second, why can’t Rhapsody say on their website that it’s only for USA use in the first place? Nowhere does it talk about regional limitations other then when you actually ask to join. [For the record: I contacted them and they confirmed it's a USA only service at the moment.]
Lack of clarity aside, it is obvious Rhapsody isn’t the culprit here. Let's just say it's highly likely Rhapsody would be happy to take my Aussie dollars given the chance; let's also say it's highly likely the record companies are blocking it from doing so. They’re probably having backroom discussions on how much royalty Rhapsody should be paying them, because it seems that they consider non American listeners ought to pay more than American ones.
Well, to the record companies I will say this: fuck you, too.

I’ll move on to a non Rhapsody experience that is well related to my experiences above: the Amazon Kindle experience.
Kindle, as you probably know, is Amazon’s eBook reader. Having seen it in action on numerous occasions by now I can attest that it is, indeed, a wonderful apparatus and that I would dearly love to own an eBook reader. It’s just that I don’t think the concept is ripe enough, as my Kindle experience demonstrates.
I thought my first step to the Kindle world should be installing its Windows and iPhone software to check things out using a free book (and there are plenty of those; essentially everything written by authors who died more than fifty something years ago should be in the public domain according to our current draconian copyright legislation). So I installed them and it was all nice and easy (even if there's no Linux version and I had to do it on Windows).
Next I went to the Amazon website to get a couple of free books, only to notice they’re not free: they sell for $2 each. Why? Because books are downloaded to your Kindle eBook reader through the cellular network, and Amazon – being a USA company – has to pay for global roaming. But, and that’s an interesting but, why should I pay for global roaming when I’m downloading the books to my Windows PC through an internet connection? Doesn’t make sense, does it?
So I took the liberty to use my American address (a perfectly legal address I bought over the web) with Amazon, which immediately made the books genuinely free. This allowed me to quickly download some books.
The next day I got a nice email from Amazon, saying "I see that you attempted to purchase [books] while in a different country than United States listed on your Amazon account... If this is not the case, and you would like to share information that you live in United States, we can be reached by fax... Helpful information includes: Passport, Military ID, Permanent Resident Card, Driver’s License, Other state photo identity card".
Sure enough, I couldn’t hold myself from sending documents exposing me to potential identity theft to Amazon. Amazon, the same company that decided to charge my credit card for no particular reason (read here). Not that I have any of the documents they’re asking for, but the point is they (Amazon) actually have the guts to make a fuss over a point where they’re being idiots in the first place because no global roaming was ever used.
So I’ll say this to Amazon: Fuck you.
And I’ll use the opportunity to say why I don’t think eBooks are there for us yet. It’s called DRM, the copy protection mechanism that Amazon’s eBooks use which prevents them from being used on any platform other than a Kindle supported platform. Matter of fact, all eBooks use this type of DRM. Thing is: what’s to happen in two years time, when instead of a Kindle we find ourselves using a Shmindle? I hear the publishers and the distributors’ great delight, because they know the answer: we’ll have to buy the same books again.
Call me old fashioned, but they can all go and fuck themselves. I’m sticking to my paper books: they’re bulky, they’re more expensive, but they’re always there for me and I can lend them around or borrow them from others without any issues. Call me when you can do that on your eBook reader.
Till then, I will conclude by stating what is growing more and more obvious: what the content owners and distributors of this world seem to really need in order to get them to get a life and accept reality is a very good dose of piracy. Piracy has started to bend record companies and movie studios down to reality; there’s a long way to go still, but it can and should go further.

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