~ Posted by James Manning, November 15th 2012
On Tuesday a Swedish duo called Cazzette released their debut album, "Eject". Normally this would only be news for fans of contemporary dance music, but there's a twist: Cazzette have teamed up with their compatriots at Spotify, a music streaming service, to release their album. "Eject" is the first album released exclusively through Spotify, which not only means that you won't be able to buy a physical copy, but also that you can't download it at all: not from Apple, not from Amazon, and not even from ASDA, where you can now buy MP3s as well as vegetables.
The upshot of this is that, while anyone in the world with an internet connection and a Spotify account can now listen to "Eject" for free, even the most dedicated fan of Swedish electro can never legally own a copy of it either in physical or digital form. Cazzette's motivation might be fighting piracy—a mainstream political issue in Sweden, which has two MEPs from the copyright-reforming Pirate Party— or simply grabbing some headlines on which to launch their career. Either way, they have set a dangerous precedent by effectively disenfranchising their audience: dangerous for music fans, and dangerous for Cazzette themselves, because if Spotify (for whatever reason) stops hosting their album then their fans simply won't be able to listen to it. Unless, that is, someone with the right software and a sense of irony downloads it illegally.
It raises the question: who owns your music? If you've got shelves full of CDs or vinyl, then the answer is: you do. But with an ever-growing range of online digital music shops comes an equally expansive and bewildering legal knot. The Amazon MP3 store has an ominous Agreement, subject to which you get "a non-exclusive, non-transferable right to use the Music Content only for your personal, non-commercial, entertainment use"—meaning, you can listen to what you've downloaded but it doesn't really belong to you. Similarly the iTunes Store (in the UK, at least) will provide you with music "by way of a license only". For those wondering what that means, the terms and conditions link to five external websites to clear things up.
But if your music files are already on your computer, there's not much that a company can do about it. Apple's UK terms and conditions admit that, while they can shut down your account, "Termination of the Service will not affect the iTunes Products that you have already acquired"—that is, they can ban you from the shop, but they can't repossess what you've already bought. If your music collection is floating in the Spotify cloud, then it was never yours to begin with.