Commentary

Ruckus suckus

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Oct. 24, 2006 

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Recently, I was stopped in the Union by a representative from Ruckus. Ruckus, if you remember, is the online music downloading service IU agreed to license to deter students from stealing pirated music online. It's rare that I'll strike up a conversation with these flier-pushers -- the discussions inevitably decimate my spirits, and these days, I close my eyes and pretend I'm alone if I see someone with a handful of papers smiling and waving in my direction. Unless, of course, they have prizes.

The Ruckus representative gave me a cheap plastic mug in return for a review of the Ruckus software. I told him it's still too early to know how students will use Ruckus -- if they use it at all -- but the informal discussions I've had and my personal usage come to one universal conclusion: weak.

I expressed my sentiments to the representative behind the desk as he chewed on his Whopper Value Meal, nodding solemnly and trying not to spill on himself. When I finished, he reminded me of Ruckus' only selling point: that the license is free. I'll never know for sure, but I think he was implying you get what you pay for. I had to point out that stealing is also free and that pirated music plays on any device.

Since Ruckus' encrypted files can't be converted into an iPod-friendly format, the songs iPod owners download are stuck on their computers, which entirely ignores the real advantage of digital music. If listeners were overly concerned with sound quality, they'd return to vinyl -- the market for digital music is portability. When you think about it, a computer that plays music is really just an oversized CD player.

Still, the root of the problem is that Ruckus isn't really "free." IU is only licensing the songs -- basically leasing the library -- and students lose the rights to play their library cost-free once they graduate. They're then stuck with either a monthly fee or thousands of unusable files. There's just nothing revolutionary about a loan.

If anything, the lesson here is crime pays. Ruckus' method of distribution is great, giving music freely to any student who wants it. The question is why anyone would bother, considering the user will be forced to download an illegal copy of the same song once he or she leaves IU. Downloading music from Ruckus is like picking up a fler you know you're going to throw away.

 

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