“We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”* Wrote Taylor Swift in a pertinent letter to Apple. The smart pop-star was voicing her concerns to the most powerful company in the world over not getting paid for three months. Less than 24 hours after Ms. Swift complained publicly that Apple was not planning to pay royalties during a three-month trial period of its new streaming music service, the company changed course, and confirmed that it will pay its full royalty rates for music during the free trial. Apple had announced a subscription streaming service to compete with Spotify, Rhapsody and Deezer, but royalties were not going to be paid royalties during the trial period. Swift, who last year pulled her music from Spotify in another dispute over royalties, called Apple’s policy “shocking, disappointing and completely unlike this historically progressive company.” Coincidently, Taylor Swift‘s complaint and Apple’s venture into streaming music could not have happened if it were not for German audio engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg’s 1995 invention for compressing audio files, later to be know as mp3s. And this amazing true story is told in a new book, How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy, by Stephen Witt.
Twenty years ago the mp3 was an unknown, irrelevant format and music piracy was unheard of. Today, many people would never consider purchasing their music, and this switch in the public’s thinking brought the music industry to its knees. In the next edition of Life Elsewhere, Norman B will talk to Stephen Witt, who tells the enthralling story of the birth of mp3’s, streaming music, the music piracy revolution and the mysterious man who almost singlehandedly took down the music industry.