Somewhere in a box I have a copy of Dire Straits’ Love Over Gold on cassette. I bought it when I was a kid and listened to it on the Sony boombox that I won when I was thirteen in a competition to come up with a new advertising slogan for Pot Noodle™.
Dire Straits’ fourth, and possibly second best, album was one of several tapes I irritated the rest of my family with by singing along with in my room. Poor Mark Knopfler became too popular with the sort of characters Steve Coogan and Harry Enfield do, the sort of people the music press love to laugh at. No amount of songwriting talent or instrumental virtuosity can redeem you in their eyes if you have uncool fans. Love Over Gold came out the same year as the Clash’s Combat Rock. You know which one will be name-checked more frequently by middle-aged bores in magazine interviews. I know which one is better.
I heard some Dire Straits on the radio the other day and thought I’d like to listen to Love Over Gold again. I could have hooked up my old cassette deck, which is also in a box somewhere. If there had been a way to download the music for a reasonable price in a lossless format with no “copy protection” and burn it onto a CD legally then I would have paid for it again. There wasn’t. There isn’t. There probably won’t be for years. So I didn’t. I just got it from a file-sharing site.
Yes, I “stole” it, but I stole something I already “owned”. As if it needed saying again, in doing so I didn’t deprive anyone of the music in the same way that that tedious, fatuous ad at the beginning of every DVD I legally rent tells me that someone stealing a handbag deprives its owner of wallet and keys and mobile phone. And, contradicting the implication of that same ad, I didn’t donate the money I’d saved to Al-Qaeda, and I didn’t dress up in bondage gear and plunge a branding iron into a pile of red-hot coal. I just slapped it on my CD player and sang along to it again—without playing Tim-Nice-But-Dim tennis-racket guitar. [For a less flippant and more informed fisking of the usual copyright fallacies, see Lessig on a related question.]
I could only get hold of the remastered version of the album though, so the recording I remember has been slathered with (analogue) compression and equalization. The sound is too in-your-face and bright for my tastes, even on my polite loudspeakers, but I suppose I’m comparing it to the orignal softened sound of tape. My hearing’s not as good as it was when I was fourteen, but I don’t need a rack of “aural enhancers” between me and the original mix, thanks, so I’d have preferred it if it had been left alone.
How much would it cost us to pay the journalists and the record companies just to piss off and let us enjoy the music? Oh, yeah, I remember. We’d pay the ransom if they’d let us, but I think we’ll just let them go extinct instead.