Problems with Online Music Purchasing

By Graham K. Rogers

iTunes coverflow

I made two discoveries on the day of my 13th birthday. First, I found that it was not wise to extinguish sausages burning in their fat with water. The other came when a friend brought the first Rolling Stones album to the party. It was raw, urgent music and had the additional attraction that my mother hated it.

I had to wait until the shops were open the following Monday before I could use my record tokens. Now, despite the absence of the iTunes shop here, I can buy online.

Last Monday, I heard some music which I really liked by a group named Keane. The iTunes Music Shop showed that it came from the album, "Under the Iron Sea". A Google search gave me the website and a list on the home page gave me a "Shop" link.

Many artists sell their music online, partly as a sign of their dissatisfaction with the record companies and Digital Rights Management (DRM). Older artists, for example, like Sandie Shaw and Melanie Safka from the 60s and 70s have their own online organisations. Both allow downloads of music: Melanie's are in AAC format and the site recommends iTunes. Newer singers like Ryan Winford and Ane Brun, whom I found through podcasts, also sell online. I have bought CDROMs from both as well as from the HMV shop online, particularly when I cannot find the music in Bangkok.

The Keane link sent me to a second site, and when I selected "Keane Downloads" I ended up at the Island Tunes pages. A click on the album's icon took me directly to a page with previews and downloads.

As many web sites identify the web browser and the operating system used to link to a web page, in the light of what occurred I was surprised that I was not stopped as I tried to make my downloads. When downloading the Safari browser or iTunes from the Apple website, the operating system is identified and the correct files will be found.

I decided to buy the whole album for £7.99 (550 baht), the same price as the iTunes shop (which the EU is investigating). The downloaded files showed a small QuickTime icon: the Flip4Mac utility converts WMA files to QuickTime.

Island Tunes purchase page

However, when I tried to open the downloads, nothing happened. Flip4Mac does not incorporate the latest Digital Rights Management (DRM) for Windows Media Player Series 10 (WMP) and there is no WMP for Mac now (which is why Flip4Mac is used). I had missed a tiny WMA icon on the left of that downloads page.

I searched the Island Tunes web pages and then saw why the music would not play on a Questions page. Indeed, they never will on a Mac, unlike iTunes purchases on a PC. At least with the iTunes shop you could burn a disk and reimport; only I cannot buy from the iTunes shop. This is what you get when you try and buy music legally.

A note from Island Tunes later confirmed that I could put the tracks on a PC and from there burn to a disk and reimport to my Mac that way; but once the files are on a computer I have no control over, the copy protection is worthless and Mac users are completely excluded from such legitimate downloading.

The UK has fairly strong consumer protection and there is a specific procedure when buying goods online from a UK company. Also, according to the Consumer Direct website, a user is entitled to (among other things):

The service I used appears to be in breach of the first and second of those: we have now reached the third. I have asked for a refund.

Keane CD I was more annoyed as I found out shortly after making the downloads that the CD can be bought from the HMV shop for less than I paid from Island Tunes at £6.99 (480 baht) with none of the restrictions (there is an international mailing charge).

Even more galling was finding a Special Thailand Edition of the CD the next day in Siam Paragon, Bangkok, for about half the price of that online deal (279 baht). The disk joined the stack of legally purchased music firmly under my control.

As a final irony, the Thai disk did not have the title track, "Under the Iron Sea."

Note: After some correspondence, Island Tunes agreed to reimburse me and I have deleted all the files.

Made on Mac

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