Commentary

The First Generation Is About To Die

I just received an e-mail from a casual acquaintance. It is the end; she is desperate, helpless, with dignity gone.

She writes: "ALL MY DATA IS GONE. Yes, it does hurt. Everything from the last 2 years. I cannot even put my head into it, because I would just go around and drink every single bottle that I find in my place, and then I would probably start eating my carpet. Please, don't lecture me about backing up; because I knew about [it], I even had an empty external hard drive and I didn't do it, it's all my fault and I can only blame myself." Her e-mail goes on to say that the data recovery company wants $1,500-$2,000 to recover her data, and concludes: "I am hoping that there will be someone out there that could send me to some absolutely genius Mac wizard who could help me!!! Please, think about it, talk about it with your friends, forward my e-mail, and let me know, because I am not giving up!!!!" This is an old story. Hard drives die all the time, and most of us know that we're supposed to back up our data on a regular basis. But, what makes this untimely demise particularly interesting is the fact that she had over $500 worth of purchased, legally licensed, audio and video content on the drive. Sadly, her electronic proof-of-purchase receipts were lost with the rest of the data. My friends on the hardware side of the business tell me that the useful life for an average hard drive is about three to four years of "always on" use. If that's true (and I have only anecdotal evidence to support it), then the entire first generation of Apple Music Store customers are about to be rudely shocked. Or, at the very least, a few hundred dollars poorer. Which would you rather do, spend $1,500 to recover your $500 worth of content--or just rebuy the licenses? Not a great choice. The DRM schemas employed by Apple convinced squeamish content owners that their end-to-end solution was about as simple and safe a bet as they were likely to find. The success of the iPod and the technocultural revolution that Apple has caused is more than proof of concept. Apple is the clear leader in the online distribution business, and there is a distant tie for second place. That's today. We are about to experience a consumer issue that is truly unprecedented. People are about to find out that losing a download is exactly like losing a physical CD or DVD--it's gone! With no helpful policy from the content distribution companies, what are the consumer alternatives at that desperate moment? Import the CDs you burned when you bought the music (if you took the time to burn them). This music will be completely sans metadata. Your new music library will just be a bunch of .mp3 files with titles only--no organization, no DRM. This is not a good scenario. Alternatively, you might figure out a way, as my pen pal is trying to do, to get someone to help you. The last part of her e-mail simply says, "Can anyone crack my iPod and get the songs off of it? Or, can any of you just let me ..."

I've omitted the last few lines of her e-mail because they are a solicitation to commit a crime under the current copyright laws--desperation is an exceptional motivator.

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