Music, books and countries

If you have a PC (or Mac, or Android phone) you can use the Internet to store your music. Actually you can do that anyway – Ubuntu Linux has had this for at least a year – but it is new to Amazon. com. And unlike Ubuntu One, it is for Americans only. has launched a “cloud drive” service for their MP3 shop. People can save the MP3 files directly to these servers (not actual clouds, luckily) and play them from anywhere. Anywhere in the USA, that is. does not sell MP3 files overseas, although ironically they sell CDs, which you can then rip and upload to competing “cloud” providers. It’s a good thing sending all those physical objects across the globe does not cause some kind of climate change or anything, since the end result is exactly the same, with the addition of a CD on a landfill.

I think it is safe to assume that the restrictions on export of MP3 files are due to negotiations with the RIAA, the Recording Industry Asses of America or something very similar to that. It bears mention that I have bought several books in electronic form from Amazon, quickly and without hassle, across the Atlantic. This fits with my impression that book publishers may be greedy like the rest of us, but fundamentally sane. The RIAA, on the other hand, systematically comes across as a collective psychiatric basketcase, more exactly organized paranoia. These are the guys, if you remember, who wanted many millions from a single mother for a couple dozen pretty boring music tracks.

Not to sow doubt about their clinical insanity and need for strong medication and straitjackets, but there is a fundamental difference between books and music that may explain their behavior to some small degree. Whereas music has been with us since time immemorial, canned music is a far more recent invention than the written word.  Books, in some form, is a mainstay of civilization. It could even be argued that civilization as we know it would be hard to maintain without them. Certainly a high-level civilization is unlikely to evolve without a lengthy phase of written records.  So basically, we know books, their causes and effects.

And it so happens that people who read books tend to be regarded as civilized. Whether this is cause or effect, or perhaps both, I am not sure.  As a friend likes to quote from The Penultimate Peril: “Wicked people never have time for reading. It’s one of the reasons for their wickedness.” Music, on the other hand, is often seen as loosening the bands of civilization (although this varies with the type of music, I would say.)

It may not always have been exactly like this. During my recent reading of Dante’s Inferno, there was a mention of an adulterous couple who had supposedly fallen in sin by reading a romance novel together, and consequently went to hell as they never repented.  My immediate reaction was “Who the hell would read a romance novel together with someone of the opposite sex if they were not already planning to do that thing?”  But it goes to show that books may once have been viewed with a certain suspicion which is now reserved for more modern technologies.