Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

Corporate piracy unearthed with buried treasure



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Cassettes opened up vast new seas to loot and pillage. The tape quality was much better than eight-tracks and the recorders incorporated things like Dolby noise reduction, a technology most suited to pirating music. In the waning days of cassettes, I began to have qualms about what I was doing. Like a junkie who couldn't stop, I'd visit a store in Toronto that rented CDs and sold blank tapes. I think it was the sign above the blank cassette display reminding people it was illegal to make tapes of rented CDs that both worried and confused me. Just what was the message here?

But all that looks like child's play compared to the brave new world of compressed files and the lawlessness of the Internet. For a long time, I avoided wading into those pirate-infested waters. My reluctance was theoretically based on a snobbish dismissal of the mp3 file format. Taking a bazillion byte feast from a CD and compressing it into a two-bite slider obviously left a lot of music on the table. How jejune, how anti-audiophilic.

The real reason - it turned out - had more to do with having dial-up Internet instead of highspeed. I resisted broadband for as long as I could, which is to say for as long as one of my neighbours had an unlocked wi-fi signal I could pira... er, poach.

But my piracy was punk until, well, it's Microsoft's fault. Or Apple's. Certainly not mine. Let's not lose sight of the fact that I'm the victim here.

I was perfectly happy playing honestly purchased - okay, frequently copied - CDs and the very rare download on my Windows media player. No harm; no foul. Until I accidentally downloaded the latest version a little over a year ago. In keeping with the robust spirit of Windows Vista, that piece of software was a piece of sh... er, junk. Play two songs, crash. Reboot. Play two songs, crash.

In desperation I turned to iTunes. I'd resisted iTunes, iPods, iEverything because I was an iNothing kind of guy and everyone I knew in the throes of the Cult of Apple seemed to have a latent streak of Moonie about them. Not understanding iTunes any more than I understand any program, I let it suck up all the music on my hard drive. I was appalled when it automatically converted all the big files into teeny, tiny mp3 files. I was even more appalled when I couldn't hear any difference.

With the last vestige of snobbish resistance lost to aging ears, the floodgates opened. I hoovered all my CDs into iTunes. It wasn't enough. I spent hours, days, weeks digitizing old vinyl and cassette tapes, in some cases creating third generation piracy. The convenience was seductive. Shuffle delivered gems of nearly forgotten music I'd never have selected but relished hearing. Like a junkie with the shakes, I craved more.