Apple Turned Me Into a Pirate (Almost)

Since my late teens the entirety of my income has come from managing the rights to my creative endeavors. Which is why I am absolutely opposed to pirating intelectual property. Software, music, movies, I pay for it all, and, when appropriate, I chastise my friends who use cracked software or acquire movies for free via BitTorrent. All that said, today Apple pushed me to commit an act of piracy.

A couple of months ago I watched a spectacular series, made in 2005, about Queen Elizabeth I entitled The Virgin Queen. It’s wonderfully written, directed, and acted. Also exceptional is the musical score by Martin Phipps. The title song, The Virgin Queen, performed by the Medieval Baebes, so moved me I sought out the Baebe’s founder Katharine Blake and interviewed her on an episode of the Chaos and Creativity podcast. The song is both inspirational and sentimental. Sadly, I can no longer play it on Apple’s Music app. Any attempt to do so displays the message: “This song not currently available in your country or region.”

I don’t get too excited about my Apple Music subscription, I mean, it’s fine; “fine” being a four letter word. Using the unintuitive app inspires at least a dozen expletives a week. Customer service is arduous an typically futile for complicated issues. But, whatever, the service works even if the whole experience feels mildy corporate despite having having had Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovene, Trent Reznor, and many other music legends involved in expanding the streaming service when Apple purchased Beats. At the end of the day I’m paying for the music I listen to, which, in turn, gets the artists paid.

The support call with a very nice representative from Apple revealed The Virgin Queen song is no longer available on Apple Music. Somewhere, out there, a logical reason about expiring license rights exists, but it doesn’t change the fact I can no longer listen to a song I really like. Doubly frustrating is, (here we go), back in my day music came on a CD, a physical medium that couldn’t arbitrarily be removed from my collection. Yes, yes, yes, things are better now. For the most part streaming is fabulous except for the reason above, and the compromises in sound quality required to make the music efficiently transportable via the internet. But, having something so important to me, that I paid for, taken away is maddening. Maddening enough to force me to piracy.

Thankfully someone uploaded the The Virgin Queen song to YouTube. Following instructions found online, I was able to download the song to my laptop.

However, the feeling of victory was short-lived. Guilt crept over me like a dark cloud. In good conscience I couldn’t enjoy the music knowing the artist wasn’t getting compensated. To right the wrong I contacted Katharine Blake to arrange to send her a few bucks.

Ironically the massive success of Apple Music (iTunes) was due to Steve Job’s correct assumption that people weren’t drawn to music piracy sites because the music was free. It was because of the convenience of having a huge number of individual songs—not albums—available and easy to purchase, download, and play. It was all about freedom for the music fan. A freedom that is eroding, forcing the consumer to spend less time listening to music and more time debugging the music delivery service.

I just went to my Oasis playlist and all the songs are greyed out with the same “ or region” error. Another twenty minutes with Apple support reveals, thankfully, the songs are still available, but the playlist needs to be reconstructed.

Too weary to waste anymore time with my iPhone I grabbed an old Oasis CD from my garage and slid it into probably one of the last CD players to be available in a late model car.

I wonder if music piracy is destined for a resurgence. Inexplicably, the legal way of listening to music, which used to be incredibly easy, is increasingly fraught with complexities both technological and legal leaving the end user powerless and frustrated. That’s usually how rebellion begins. Personally I’d prefer the corporate entities to get together and create a universal agreement for global music licensing. The idea of cross border restrictions in this day and age is absurd.

I’d also like to see Apple make a better music app. One where adding a song to a playlist, the most common action next to playing a song, was obvious. Hiding it in a long press popup next to an item entitled “add to library” is just silly.

It would be a dream if the marketing promise of every song ever recorded was available always and forever. I’d pay for that, thus ensuring the artists got paid too.