Thursday, March 31, 2011

Exploiting psycho-acoustic simulation

Many may have seen that the Beatles back catalogue finally made it to the iTunes store this week. Also in the news was a story of a legal suit against a US based company called BlueBeat who had briefly been selling MP3s of Beatles and other tracks for as little as $US0.25 until their forced closure in 2009.

What is interesting about this story is the apparent use of a technique called  “psycho-acoustic simulation“ by company owner Hank Risan to create “unique versions of copyright material”. The judges were obviously not convinced and concluded that Risan used an "obscure and undefined pseudo-scientific language [that] appears to be a long-winded way of describing 'sampling'."

But the Beatles “move” to the iTunes store is also intriguing. One wonders if it is a subtle link between the Beatle’s Apple Record Label (who's records came with vinyl labels designed with the inside and outside of an apple on either side) and the computer brand, a peace of sorts after years of apparent legal conflict over the image rights.

EMI however, look at the deal as a form of salvation amidst the music industry’s current collapse (see Figure 1 for albums and Figure 2 for singles).

  Figure 1: Album sales 1973-2010

Figure 2: Singles sales 1973-2010

Given the Beatle’s 50 year life-span so far it is interesting to imagine their contribution alone to the curve, having gone through a variety of formats despite only arriving now at digital.

What is perhaps more disturbing for the companies is that "The Beatles were about 10% of their [EMIs] sales in the US last year [2010], excluding digital, so having The Beatles available online can clearly be a good thing. They're very good at exploiting them." According to Ben Rumley from Enders Analysis. That an old group accounts for so much is worrying for such a company, but also one has to laugh at his “innocent” use of the word exploiting. It’s always nice to be treated with respect.

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