Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The His and Hers Music Collection

The Digital Music Age has brought us many advantages and many changes, and with them all, it has made the already gray area of music use and ownership and lovely blend of Charcoal, Slate, and Ash. The music industry has been battling ‘piracy’ for years and have employed a number of anti-copying tactics. But that’s not that area I want to look at just now. Google Play (Google’s music service) is a cloud style music storage/player. With it, you can upload any and all digital music you might have. The songs are stored over the interwebs making it accessible from most devices with an internet connection. Google has recently updated it’s Play service by incorporating a few new features. It now pretty much does it all. One of the few things that you cannot do, however, is share your music collection with another Google account. Note: I’m not using the social media definition of “Share” here, rather the more traditional one.
I jumped on the Google Play bandwagon a little bit before my Wife did. As a result, I had uploaded a significant amount of our music collection to my account by the time my wife began using the service. So when she did start to use it, we decided to use my account. This was not a problem until we discovered that you can only listen to music on one device at a time. So if I am at work listening to music, and my wife decides to take the dogs on a walk and wants to listen to music while she walks, my music stops playing. Which is, needless to say, quite frustrating.
I used the phrase “our music collection” very purposefully. It is not simply the music that I’ve purchased over the years, it is also the music that my wife has purchased that we’ve uploaded. It is very simply put, all of our music. So far, Google has not provided a way to share what is uploaded to my account, with my wife. 95% of the time, it’s a non-issue. But it is more the principle of the issue than anything else. I didn’t worry too much about it until I started remembering what the pre-digital version of this looked like.
It used to be that when you acquired a new album or EP, you put it on the shelf with the others. To be listened to by anyone that had a shared access to the shelf. In the case of my wife and I, shortly after moving in together, we consolidated our separate CD collections into one slightly bigger collection, thus making it officially “our Music.” If we wanted to listen to any one CD, we took it off the shelf, placed it in the boombox and did so. There is, to my knowledge, nothing illegal or in violation of any music purchasing agreement involved in sharing ownership of a CD. So why is there this restriction with digital music? Particularly when, for all intents and purposes, we share ownership of the digital music.
My brother-in-law framed an argument, in Google’s defense, this way: When you purchase a CD, your friends do not also automatically own it. That is what “sharing” a digital music collection would essentially amount to. The first response to this is that that is exactly the purpose of sharing a music collection. When I purchase an album, my wife simultaneously and automatically owns it as well. The difference is that I would choose who has access to my music collection. It would not be the case that my friends would have access to the music, unless I granted them access.
The response to this would surely be to point out that what’s to stop someone from granting all of their friends and family access to their music collection? This would clearly be a problem. And it might be a problem in terms of money making for the artists, but I don’t think it is a problem for the act of music sharing. If I lived in a large household with, say, 5 other people and I own a large CD collection, it is well within my rights to leave the CDs in the common spaces with the intent that any of my housemates would have access to them and may use any of them at any time. After all, I purchased them, they are my possessions, and I may do with them as I like. Presuming I am not breaking the law. Granted, Digital Law is slightly less cut and dry and is one of the many reasons the issue is so damned gray.
The other case for restricting a user’s ability to share their music collection with another user is to draw another comparison to physical world music. Let’s say I go back to my large CD collection, pick one out and begin to play it. If my friend comes in and tries to take that same CD and play it somewhere else, he cannot, because I am playing it currently. After all, I only purchased one copy, not six. Therefore it would not be fair to be able to listen to the same album on two different computers if you can’t listen to the same CD in two different boomboxes.
This is a legitimate concern. However, with Google Play (and most other music services), it does not matter what albums we are both listening to. My music will stop the moment my wife starts listening to music, even if it is a different album completely. Whereas in the physical world, I may listen to one CD and my wife may listen to a different CD upstairs on a different Boombox.
Although I do not necessarily agree with the idea of restricting how many people have access to the music I own, I do understand how the music industry works. It is exclusively about the Benjamins. However, I think allowing users to share their collection with a small amount of people (three? two?) seems a fair compromise. I also agree that the same album should not be able to be listened to on two devices at the same time. That would also seem like a just restriction seeing as you would not be able to do this in the real world. I think these seem like a fair way to go about this.
Since this is not an option, however, my wife has had to start uploading a number of albums to her google account. Which seems unnecessary to say the least. Why should she have to spend the time and effort in maintaining a separate music collection, essentially just a copy of the one on my account, just so that my music doesn’t stop at work and so that she doesn’t have to turn the music off while she blogs? I’m not sure, and I’d love to see this change. I will not, however, be holding my breath.



  1. I love all the adds on here advertising used cds. Its like google is saying, "well then why don't you just go back to that if you liked it so much?"

  2. Yeah, that is pretty great. Or the Spotify ones.