Why Does The Recording Industry Complain When It's Often Its Own Worst Enemy?

from the make-stuff-available dept

We received an interesting email recently from Bilal in Dubai, explaining just how difficult it is to purchase legal music online from the Middle East, and wondering why it is that the recording industry keeps complaining that not enough people are buying, when it does nothing to allow them to buy in large parts of the world:

I am a frustrated music listener, who is tired of hearing the music industry weep of low sales.

I’ve been living in the Middle East for the past 5 years, specifically Dubai, and apparently we are not worthy of buying music online as all the legitimate online music stores (iTunes, Amazon MP3, etc…) are not available in this region.

I don’t understand how the music industry claims that it’s suffering, and yet they forbid paying customers such as myself from buying their content. This region is not lucky enough to be part of the online music community, and I would like to know why. I always hear the answer that “the rights are not available”, but the record labels are the rights owners, they control the switch! I hate to pirate music, but I don’t have any other choice.

I’m guessing the answer has to do with the fact that the major labels likely have “sold off” the regional rights to third parties in these parts of the world. But it seems like they really should be doing something to get those services available globally. It’s pretty ridiculous that it’s so limited already.

Update: Worth pointing out: apparently iTunes did recently open in UAE, though its unclear how complete it is or why it took so long to open there. Update 2…. And, no. Turns out, despite the confusing article, the “store” in question is only for physical Apple products (iPhones/iPads). iTunes software is available but no music downloads.

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Comments on “Why Does The Recording Industry Complain When It's Often Its Own Worst Enemy?”

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Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: The world is one

Actually if you look at Article 6 of the WIPO copyright treaty they seem to have that covered with the lines …

“(1) Authors of literary and artistic works shall enjoy the exclusive right of authorizing the making available to the public of the original and copies of their works through sale or other transfer of ownership.

(2) Nothing in this Treaty shall affect the freedom of Contracting Parties to determine the conditions, if any, under which the exhaustion of the right in paragraph (1) applies after the first sale or other transfer of ownership of the original or a copy of the work with the authorization of the author.6″

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The world is one

Regional restrictions are often done in a manner that GATT cannot address. There are things like packaging laws (physical packaging), labeling (government mandated warnings, notices, and the like), and language requirements. Further, you may have issues (especially in the middle east) with types of music that may be banned, blocked, or restricted.

In the case of movies, almost every country has it’s own ratings board, often overlapping with provincial, state, or regional requirements.

There may also be “local artist matching” requirements, that make it so that you can only release music from outside the country if you also release a certain percentage of local artists.

Finally, you will see things that include government mandated membership in certain groups, or requirements to contribute part of sales to an “artist fund”.

The problem I see here (and out in the wild) is that many people are blaming the record labels for what is really a system built around local government restrictions. When you pick up a copy of an album in two different countries, and the packaging is different, the labelling is different, or anything like that, you are looking at local government interference. Those are the sort of things that make it incredible expensive to produce even small numbers of “shiny discs” or to offer sale online.

Understanding those problems make much of the whining that happens on Techdirt seem meaningless. Mike is trying hard to pin the tail on the donkey, but for this stuff, he has the wrong donkey.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The world is one

Ah, the usual moronic “there’s laws… I think” whining from the TD trolls… this seems to be the new talking point. I’ve personally been saying that the industry needs to sort out its licencing model for over a decade now, and here we are with you pretending it’s somehow necessary, even though half of the restrictions make no sense in the contexts you’re raising (e.g. look at the differences between Blu Ray regioning and DVD regioning – then try telling me its government mandated when both models are equally enforced).

“In the case of movies, almost every country has it’s own ratings board, often overlapping with provincial, state, or regional requirements.”

This is correct, however most rating cover multiple release channels – e.g. the BBFC’s rating would be valid for both physical and digital releases as long as the same edit is released. Yet, Netflix have still had to go through months of negotiations to allow UK viewers the chance to access its supposedly upcoming service, even though both the ratings and similar rival services are in place, and the studios can already supply BBFC certificated cuts of the movies.

I somehow doubt this is the government’s fault. Licencing restrictions that have no place in the modern marketplace? Much more likely.

“The problem I see here (and out in the wild) is that many people are blaming the record labels for what is really a system built around local government restrictions.”

This, as ever, is utter bullshit. For example, government laws differ quite a lot between South Africa, the UK, Poland, Japan and France – yet they all have the same DVD region code. Why?

Censorship and other restrictions may explain why Dubai has less Western music available through local official channels. That doesn’t explain why such channels do not exist for citizens of that country.

“When you pick up a copy of an album in two different countries, and the packaging is different, the labelling is different, or anything like that, you are looking at local government interference.”

So what? How does that require regional restrictions when the Japanese DVD and UK DVD are the same region, but the US DVD is restricted? Frigging Swaziland and Greenland are in the same DVD region as me in Spain – what does that have to do with packaging laws?

Stop with the assumptions and generalisations – address these particular points. Why am I allowed to import a CD from the US but not purchase the MP3 of the same track? What does packaging have to do with Amazon.es being allowed to sell MP3s?

If you do reply, do so with specifics. You can generalise yourself out of any situations, but most don’t seem to apply to the specific situations being discussed.

“Finally, you will see things that include government mandated membership in certain groups, or requirements to contribute part of sales to an “artist fund”.”

So, how does that stop music from being licensed to those territories? It might affect pricing, etc, but how does it stop any legal sales from being offered at all if prices are adjusted accordingly? Bear in mind, of course, that any music already sold in that territory would be subject to the same rules.

“Understanding those problems make much of the whining that happens on Techdirt seem meaningless.”

No, it means that the industry should have spent the last 2 decades streamlining their release processes and addressing the above problems instead of wasting time and money suing customers, adding DRM and shutting down legitimate competitors. I only see one donkey here, and yet again it’s the ass posting anonymously.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The world is one

Sorry, but your argument is nonsense! You first complain the argument about government licensing and regulation issues are “moronic”, but later acknowledge that the issues are real, though sometimes mismanaged by government and publisher bureaucracy. And yet, you keep bring up media region codes, as if their arbitrary nature somehow nullifies any and all other concerns.

Yes, the region code systems were completely made up by the publishers, and no, they have almost no correlation with national or regional restrictions. That right, they are separate issues. I really don’t see why you’re having such a hard time wrapping your head around this. Region codes are mostly used for price and release date controls. Other than issues due to video formats, such as PAL and NTSC, region-free players have basically made region codes meaningless anyway. Of course, you could have just looked that up, rather than making an ass out of yourself.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The world is one

Oh dear.
“When you pick up a copy of an album in two different countries, and the packaging is different, the labelling is different, or anything like that, you are looking at local government interference.”

Or not. It makes no sense to package a CD or DVD using English, for example, in a part of the world where English isn’t the dominant language.

Or simply marketing. A picture of a band in front of the US Capitol building for a CD called, oh say, “Fight For Your Rights” is going to get an entirely different iconic reaction in the US and the Western world than it would in Latin America where, thanks to the Munroe Doctrine that America is often held to be a more nasty and despicable imperial power than, say, either the French or the British.

And on it goes. None of which needs government interference. Just plain old marketing smarts.

We do have an artist’s tax on blank CDs,DVDs and BluRay discs but not on ones that the RIAA and it’s Canadian ally/slave produce.

Record companies do know how to market shiny plastic discs. So if something is going to offend a market, not get across the message they want due to cover art and so on, it’ll be different than it is in the States not because of government interference but because the marketing folks know it’s best not to piss off the buyers. (Now, it they could have figured that one out for the Internet!)

So not every change is blamable on mean old government. A lot, the majority, are dictated by marketing.

For all of that the geographic restrictions that, say, don’t allow me to download or listen to a piece of music (legitimately) because I’m in Canada and not the United States makes no sense at all. Particularly when NAFTA is in place. Or that I can’t view a clip from a TV show I probably otherwise wouldn’t view for the same reason. It’s ludicrous.

The donkey here, sadly for you, isn’t government as much as it is the movie, record and television industries themselves and how they carved up the world way back in the 1950s or earlier.

So Mike is pinning the tail on the correct donkey.

Anonymous US Citizen in Asia says:

After living in Asia for several months, I missed Buffy terribly. 7 seasons on DVD was too large to bring with me, not that I would risk damage/theft of them anyway. I went to Amazon Unbox, which I had previously ordered from when living at home in the US. I simply got the message that I couldn’t download their videos from my Asian location.

What the? There I was, ready to pay for digital Buffy episodes.

My next thought: Oh really? I bet I can find them online somewhere…

No! These imaginary boundaries make zero sense to those of us living online. Isn’t the point of the Internet that you can access your stuff from wherever? Amazon Unbox wouldn’t let me be the same customer based on my location.

So forget them.

anonymous says:

99% of people are willing, ready and able to buy stuff from all the entertainment industries but they insist on:

a)keeping the availability restricted
b)keeping the formats limited
c)keeping the price too high
d)keeping the content, when it is available, full of DRM

they are definitely their own worse enemies but refuse to accept that. then the thick fuckers in government believe the B/S put out by the industries without checking out the legitimate availability and forcing them to improve it, as has happened in parts of Europe. they have both the right and the sensible idea there, but who am i to bring common sense into the discussion?

MrWilson says:

Re: Re:

I would add their failure to release the breadth of their content in convenient formats. They expect me to track down and buy DVDs of older movies (I’m talking film noir flicks from the 40’s – if they’ve even been released on DVD), when they could easily license them to Netflix’s steaming service.

Where is the easily accessible, giant database of their old titles? Oh yeah – The Pirate Bay…

Gary says:

I have to agree...

As a multi-lingual person, I was so psyched when I first got an iPod because I thought I could use iTunes to buy music from all over the world instead of picking up import insanely expensive CDs.

That hope crashed the first day when I kept getting messages saying I didn’t live in those countries, so too bad. Checked the forums and with iTunes support, and found the cause was regional restrictions by the labels.

I cancelled my account the same day. I only set it up to buy international music, after all.

fogbugzd says:

The industry apologists who post here have said several times that they know that things like 3 strikes would not eliminate piracy and that their objective is just to restrain piracy or make a dent in it. If that indeed is their objective then they should start by looking at their own practices and policies. Many of those practices such as windowing, delayed release schedules, DRM, and regional restrictions drive a significant amount of piracy. The industry should look at its own antiquated practices as its first and most effective method of making a dent in piracy. If the content industry would take that first step it would look a lot less like a hypocrite that expects everyone else to fix its self-inflicted wounds.

Ninja (profile) says:


And the TD MAFIAA trolls keep calling us criminals. It’s amusing when MAFIAA themselves force huge chunks of their customers into ‘illegality’ or ‘infringement’.

I have a nice example myself. There I was walking blissfully in the store when I found Assassin’s Creed for a criminally low price (figure of speech, it was the original thing but for a dirty cheap price). I don’t like Ubisoft but the first game I got for my Xbox is pretty good. So, fearing I’d run into DRM issues, I decided to buy.

Back at home I installed the game (took me bloody 40 minutes ). Then I ran the game. Ubisoft launcher ran and started updating the game (update? really?) just to fail at some point. I’m patient, I just want to run the bloody game with no updates at all but I have to run the damned launcher to activate the game. Thirty minutes late I’m still trying when I get the following message: Ubisoft servers not available at this time. Try again later. I couldn’t even reach the activation process……..

Moral of the story? I’m downloading the Xbox360 version from TPB (or a cracked PC version if none for the Xbox). A legit customer. I just wanted to play it without any hassle…

What can I say. FUCK YOU Ubisoft. FUCK YOU MAFIAA. FUCK YOU and all your DRM/complications.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Re: No Return Policy Promotes Piracy

Stores routinely sell computer games with a “no-return” policy. So if your run into problems, you are screwed. This makes those who attempt to be honest victims of an abusive system.

Logically, if they take your money and provide you with no recourse to return a product they are not being honest with you. So why bother being honest with them. These companies may whine about piracy, but they are actually promoting piracy by refusing to treat you honestly.

Anonymous Cowa says:

Re: Re: No Return Policy Promotes Piracy

This. A thousand times this.

I’ve pointed out to trolls REPEATEDLY, that in pretty much every single other industry out there, you can try before you buy and there are always return/satisfaction policies in place.

I can buy a new car, drive it for 30 days and if not satisfied, take it back and get my money back or walk off the lot with a different car.

I can buy clothes and if it doesn’t fit or is the wrong thing or whatnot, take it back for a full refund or exchange it for something else/get store credit.

I can eat at a restaurant, if I find out the food sucks part way into the meal I can speak to a manager and they’ll correct the problem (redo the meal), give me back my money (full refund) or give me a gift card. Sometimes even a combination of all of those.

I can walk into a theater, watch say 30 minutes of a movie and if unsatisfied for any reason, get a full refund on my money by walking out and speaking to a manager.

But if I buy a game or cd or movie and it sucks, won’t work (for whatever reason), etc. I am figuratively f*cked. It’s like dealing with a 5 year old, “1-2-3 no take backies!” Or something like that.

It’s amazing how “the customer is always right” in literally every other product/service industry and keeping the customer happy is always a top priority. But in entertainment, not so much. If at all.

ethorad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: No Return Policy Promotes Piracy

In the UK at least the Sale of Goods Act means that you can generally return items that aren’t of suitable quality or don’t work as intended. You can’t return a game on grounds of quality because you didn’t like it however.

If the game doesn’t work in your computer and it was sold as working then you can return it. This is presumably why they publish minimum spec requirements on boxes these days. I would guess that if you cannot play the game despite meeting the requirements on the box you would have a genuine complaint for a refund from the retailer.

Not sure about problems with ubisoft servers though – how often/lengthy would they have to be before you were able to return? What sort of uptime would be considered appropriate for a ?50 game?


PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Srsly...

“I’m downloading the Xbox360 version”

A mistake, IMHO. Any piracy just gives them ammo to use to enforce even more draconian DRM, and attempt to foist their idiocy on to console owners as well as PC owners. If you must download, get a crack for the version you already own, rather than downloading the full thing. If possible, consider trading the game for the 360 version.

There’s 2 ways to play here going forward. The first is to not purchase *anything* by Ubisoft. The second is to buy future games either used or as cheaply as possible from a major retailer – thus removing most of their opportunity for profit while staying on the right side of the law. When you do either of these, make sure to let Ubisoft know exactly why you made these decisions and how their DRM is directly affecting their bottom line.

Saying to them “I bought this game at 1/5 of the SRP because your DRM made it worth no more than that” or “I’m not buying your product as a direct result of the DRM” is a better message than “screw you, I’ll download it instead”, which was their excuse for the DRM in the first place.

FWIW, the game is excellent (I have the 360 version, no activation required!) and I took advantage of a recent trip back to the UK to buy the followup, Brotherhood. I made sure not to pay more than ?10 for the game for the above reasons (new price on release would have been ?50). I’ll probably buy Revelations in the same way when the price drops low enough for me to justify supporting Ubisoft.

anonymous says:

Re: Re: Srsly...

agree with what you say except the buying of used games is already a no-no in some countries with the entertainment industries doing as much as possible (again. lobbying, bribing!) to prohibit the re-sale of all disks, expecting to be paid over and over because a person didn’t buy the new disk. i think this is where the buying art over and over and paying the artist again and again stems from (bloody stupid)!

Steve R. (profile) says:

Product Segementation

One of the downsides of Capitalism is product segmentation in the quest to squeeze profits. Even with Microsoft, Windows is no longer simply Windows; but Windows Home, Windows Professional, etc.

The financial crises of 2008 was caused by CDO, which were an extreme form of product segmentation and repackaging that “lost” its linkage to the underlying assets.

Still, you have to wonder how the concept of “regional rights” can even be considered legitimate. Sure the manufacturer of a product can establish some limited conditions of “sale”, but to assert continued total control neglects the fact that as a product is pushed into the marketplace – the manufacturer is releasing their property rights to the purchaser. The purchaser then has a property right to re-sell/use the product.

Ideally, as a Capitalist, “regional rights” would be an abomination since it restricts trade.


Re: Re: Product Segementation


The underwriting of bad loans was not inevitable.
The sale of those loads to 3rd parties was not inevitable.
The creation of derivatives of those loans was not inevitable.
The fraudulent ratings of junk derivatives was not inevitable.

This final bit was the real problem during the crisis as it impacted the entire financial sector and not just housing.

Overcast (profile) says:

It’s a trend nowadays to point the finger elsewhere, but like I tell my kids – that’s pointless.

If the engine on my car is making noise, I can blame the tire all I want – but I’ll never correct the problem because I am refusing to recognize the reality of the situation.

Same with the Recording Industry – they can’t fix their problems, because they won’t honestly admit what their problems are.

DXB Graham says:

VPN works to a point

In the same boat as Bilal here – in Dubai, wanting to buy music, etc. but can’t. Even using a VPN doesn’t necessarily work because e.g. ITMS requires an overseas credit card to set up the account.

The least bad way that I’ve found is to use amazon.fr with a French IP address via a VPN. If I try to buy from amazon.fr without the French IP, it says region restrictions don’t allow it but when I turn the VPN on, I can use my Dubai credit card to download the music. Ironically, amazon.fr is intelligent enough to recognise that my credit card is outside the EU and therefore they deduct the VAT from the price of the downloaded tracks.

Almost as ironically, the same trick doesn’t apply for amazon.co.uk in my experience. They reject my order irrespective of which IP address I’m using. This is particularly galling when one of the tracks that I wanted to buy was available on amazon.co.uk but not on amazon.fr because of, you guessed it, region restrictions…

Censorship here probably does play a part but the fundamental issue is that the music industry don’t want us to be able to buy their products legally and force us to use other routes.

haiku says:

Re: VPN works to a point

Amazon tend to look at your current shipping address, even for the Kindle WhisperNet download. I don’t download music.

I have never had Amazon bother about the location of the bank issuing the credit card vs. the delivery address. Though I have known people who ‘top up’ their Amazon accounts using gift vouchers rather than credit cards from obscure countries (just in case)

A number of VPN’s allow payment (for the VPN service) via PayPal.

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