Computing Applications Forum


  1. Legalize Music Sharing Now
  2. Hold the Games
  3. Give Up Trying to Halt the Flow of Information
  4. Praise for Denning's Powerful Chord of Professionalism
  5. Author

The article "Digital Music and Online Sharing: Software Piracy 2.0?" (July 2003) on digital music sharing prejudged the most basic questions by formulating the issue in terms of "piracy" and "freeloading." The word piracy, formerly used by authors to criticize publishers who found lawful ways to publish unauthorized editions, has been turned around and now carries the presumption that sharing music is the moral equivalent of attacking a ship. That is surely what the record companies would like us to think, but tens of millions of music sharers think it is absurd.

The word freeloading propagates the myth that buying records supports musicians. Such support is actually true for a few long-established superstars, but other performers generally get zero when you buy their records. Record companies don’t want us to realize that the main benefit for most musicians from their record contracts is publicity, not money; and that any financial benefit results indirectly—through increased attendance at concerts. Music sharing performs this function of publicity equally well, reducing the influence of hype on music.

Regardless of how it affects record sales, music sharing ought to be legalized now.

Richard Stallman
Cambridge, MA

The article concerning the economics of digital audio was apparently published without a review by someone knowledgeable in digital audio technology. The authors’ underlying assumption—that CD audio is superior to MP3 audio—is contrary to fact. CDs are a compromise technology from the dawn of digital audio, while MP3 is a sophisticated technology based on proven scientific research. Some audiophiles and recording artists have criticized CDs as inferior even to the vinyl LPs they replaced, because CDs are unable to handle the dynamic range people are able to hear. An updated CD standard addresses this problem, but the improvement is only narrowly deployed.

MP3 audio handles the full dynamic range of human hearing. If encoded correctly, it cannot be distinguished from the original audio material in double-blind listening tests; MP3s are perceptually lossless. When encoded properly from the original audio material (admittedly unlikely for downloads) MP3s have audio quality potential superior to CDs.

The incorrect assumptions by the authors Sudip Bhattacharjee et al. about audio quality lead them to ignore the enormous value-added aspect of MP3 recordings over CDs. MP3s can be combined into extended playlists. Their consumers can mix and match tracks from the works of different artists. Entire audio libraries consisting of hundreds of hours of audio can fit in a consumer’s shirt pocket. And an entire library can be played at home, in cars, in airplanes, or while jogging.

In a free and open market MP3s represent a win-win-win audio format. The consumer wins with more utility, choices, and flexibility. The artist wins because a larger aggregate market would be attracted to the greater utility of their creative works. And the entrepreneur bringing the two together gets rich. Blame the monopolist copy moguls for turning the greatest commercial opportunity ever in audio recording technology into a lose-lose-lose format.

It should be possible for the authors to quantify the added value of MP3s over their CD counterparts. They might well prove that the copy monopolists, by interfering in the otherwise free and open market for audio formats and gear, take vastly more value from the audio consumer than the monopolists allege is being taken from them by pirates.

Richard Proudfoot
Wallingford, CT

Authors Respond:
Our operating assumption remains valid within the article’s context for the following reasons: most MP3 files available online are ripped from CDs, and by definition, cannot be of higher quality; our research has found that over 90% of online MP3 files are encoded at below-CD quality; and user perception of quality is ultimately what matters. Over 50% of our survey respondents reported the MP3 quality they experienced online is below-CD quality. Richard Proudfoot’s suggestions on technical superiority of MP3 technology and potential business implications are, however, intriguing and worthy of further study.

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Hold the Games

There is another way the game experience is, but should not be, part of many applications ("A Game Experience in Every Application," July 2003). Games are filled with puzzles players must solve to gain points and advance to higher levels. If the puzzles are too difficult, Web sites are available to provide solutions. But the games themselves are viewed as more fun if the players figure them out on their own.

I just spent the past two weeks trying to figure out the puzzles more than one developer has put into their software development IDEs. In one case, the vendor’s online help had most of the answers but couldn’t be located without email help first to even know where to look. In another case, the online help was extensive but totally worthless; I had to find all the answers through Web searches. I still have not succeeded in task completion in either case. Moreover, these are not isolated cases.

Before Apple Computer killed off the only commercially viable WYSIWYG operating system to ever exist, adherence to its user interface guidelines made direct manipulation possible in most applications—without reading the manual. Unfortunately, even Apple has adopted the make-it-like-a-game puzzle approach to software design. For the past two years all the formerly Mac-oriented magazines have been filled with complex articles on how to open Unix text windows and type in arcane commands to do things not otherwise possible in OS X—but which in the (original) Mac OS you could do in a few clicks and drags or didn’t need to do in the first place. *sigh*

Meanwhile, I don’t buy or use game software (except when writing games). The computer is a productivity tool; I don’t appreciate being forced into game mode to produce something.

Tom Pittman
Bolivar, MO

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Give Up Trying to Halt the Flow of Information

Whenever I hear complaints about copyright violations, my mind wanders back to the samizdat movement in the former Soviet Union. Dedicated people hand-copied works of authors who were otherwise banned by their government from publishing. In doing so they faced draconian punishment. During the 1980s there was talk of finding ways to ship PCs and copiers there to ease the stifled flow of information.

Modern computing technology aids in the creation, copying, and dissemination of information. Give up trying to halt that flow. Giant media corporations cannot succeed where the KGB failed.

Richard R. Brooks
State College, PA

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Praise for Denning’s Powerful Chord of Professionalism

Peter Denning’s column "The Profession of IT" on managing commitments instead of managing time ("Internet Time Out," March 2002) caught me between the eyes, compelling me to share it with my colleagues. Another standout was "Career Redux" (Sept. 2002) on the various forms of training and development one needs as one moves through the various levels of our professional lives. It was very much on my mind as I undertook an online master’s program in IT starting last year. I have been especially attentive to taking my experience beyond knowledge gathering in the online environment.

Then came Denning’s discussion of customers (and attitudes) in academia ("The Missing Customer," March 2003). And more recently his tour de force "Accomplishment" (July 2003).

The first thing I look for in a new issue of Communications is the latest "The Profession of IT" column.

I belonged to ACM from 1961 to 1993, then returned in 1998 for access to the Digital Library, knowing I would be retiring and looking to pursue some scholarship in the field I love. I am grateful that Communications is still in print, or I would have missed Denning’s empowering and inspiring columns. They strike a powerful chord for me.

Dennis E. Hamilton
Seattle, WA

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