Why are there no music CD rental outfits?
November 18, 2004 12:54 PM   Subscribe

This question got me thinking... Why is it that there are video and game rental outlets (Blockbu$ter, Hollywood, etc) but not CD rental outlets here in the US? Anyone know anything about the license agreements video rental outlets sign and in turn what license agreements one accepts when they purchase a CD from a store? Why wouldn't I be able to rent out my CDs? You'd think in this day of iPods, CDRs and such large hard drives, this would be a killer busines to get into.
posted by pwb503 to Media & Arts (22 answers total)
"You'd think in this day of iPods, CDRs and such large hard drives, this would be a killer busines to get into."

I think you just answered your own question...
posted by Robot Johnny at 1:11 PM on November 18, 2004

Why is there a dollar sign in the word "Blockbuster?" I don't understand the significance.
posted by blueshammer at 1:16 PM on November 18, 2004

You could always try your local library. Mine has thousands of CDs available for borrowing.
posted by shawnj at 1:26 PM on November 18, 2004

Renting CDs is considered an infringement. See the Copyright Act. Specifically 17 U.S.C. §109(b)(1)(A).
posted by anathema at 1:26 PM on November 18, 2004

Years ago a video store here in Canada rented CDs. They stopped after a while, I guess they figured it was more profitable to buy and rent out X DVDs than (X - Y) DVDs and Y CDs.
posted by bobo123 at 1:27 PM on November 18, 2004

Most libraries have a modest CD library that you can borrow from.
posted by neckro23 at 1:27 PM on November 18, 2004

CD rental is illegal in America (along with software rental). The specific statue that bans it is discussed here. That article also mentions CD rental stores in Japan. They're so popular that they (and the used CD market that is born from them) outstrip actual CD sales.
posted by vorfeed at 1:28 PM on November 18, 2004

Keep in mind that a DVD costs much more to Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, or your local rental place than it costs you or me. It's because the license is less restrictive at the higher cost -- it's not legal to rent out the DVDs you get at Best Buy.

So the answer, as anathema said: it constitues copyright infringement and is illegal. The reason it's illegal is because there hasn't been enough demand for such a service for record studios to offer a less restrictive license for a higher price.
posted by savetheclocktower at 1:43 PM on November 18, 2004

Response by poster: I guess my question is then, how does one go about finding out what you as the purchasor is agreeing to when I cannot find such information on the CD packaging before or after purchase? I would understand if there was a EULA that I had to rip in half to get the CD out of the jewel case, but there isn't anything there on the goods. How and what have I agreed to by purchasing a CD?

posted by pwb503 at 2:36 PM on November 18, 2004

pwb503: I'm guessing that since your rights are clearly delineated in the law that the CD labels don't feel a need to add any additional restrictions to the CDs you buy.
posted by gyc at 2:52 PM on November 18, 2004

Why is there a dollar sign in the word "Blockbuster?" I don't understand the significance.

This might help.

(I tease because I love, and it was an interesting question)
posted by milovoo at 3:03 PM on November 18, 2004

Also, I suspect the RIAA, unlike the MPAA was probably never interested in renting out CD's the way the film industry rents out DVDs for a very simple reason:

Up until recently, and even for most people, today, ripping/copying a DVD, and certainly a VHS tape, is either beyond their skills, or the capabilities of their equipment.

We've been able to make duplicates of cassettes and CD's for 20 years now - the music sales business would die so fast under those conditions, whats the point?
posted by TTIKTDA at 3:51 PM on November 18, 2004

In the 1980s there were record rental stores for a while. I remember one on University Way in Seattle. Then they were pretty much hounded out of business, and I bought some of their records at the going out of business sale.

Just a block away but a couple of years later, there was a software rental store as well, which was pretty blatantly assuming you were going to copy their software -- they were selling blank disks and software for copying. It was darned handy, though, for trying out software. This store was also basically legislated out of business.

Do libraries lend out software as they do cds and videos?
posted by litlnemo at 4:00 PM on November 18, 2004

Keep in mind that a DVD costs much more to Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, or your local rental place than it costs you or me. It's because the license is less restrictive at the higher cost -- it's not legal to rent out the DVDs you get at Best Buy.

Um, no. I work for a company in the rental industry - and while we don't buy our dvds at Best Buy - we pay (a distributor) about the same amount you would for a dvd, if not a couple bucks less. Moreover, we can sell the used discs back for a few more bucks, making the net price significantly cheaper than what most people pay.
posted by rorycberger at 4:12 PM on November 18, 2004

Also, IANAL, but why would you need a special license to rent or otherwise distribute a disc for private home viewing? Isn't that what all "normal" dvds are licensed for?
posted by rorycberger at 4:16 PM on November 18, 2004

What's popular here in Canada, now, are used CD shops. You can basically use them as a rental shop, if you don't buy CDs that they have lots of already. Just buy a CD, enjoy it until you're done with it, and sell it back. They'll only take $3 - $5 off the price they offered you the first time. Which is about how much most people are spending to rent DVDs...

All quite legal, too. At least here. I think it is in the US, too.
posted by shepd at 5:04 PM on November 18, 2004

Keep in mind that a DVD costs much more to Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, or your local rental place than it costs you or me. It's because the license is less restrictive at the higher cost -- it's not legal to rent out the DVDs you get at Best Buy.

That's true with VHS sometimes, which occasionally are still released at a "price-to-rent" price of ~$90. (For example, this page on BN.com has U-571 at $105 for the rental market.)

DVD's never followed that price structure, though. This page explains it pretty well.
posted by ALongDecember at 5:18 PM on November 18, 2004

I stand humbly corrected. Thanks for the links.
posted by savetheclocktower at 5:58 PM on November 18, 2004

Hoooold on. Renting CDs is not illegal in the US. Not exactly. Anathema is exactly right in saying that it relates to 17 U.S.C. §109(b)(1)(A). What is important to note is that it states:

the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner

That is, with the blessings of the copyright holder, rental is legal. However, few, if any, music companies have authorized rental, first because of the fear of home taping, then home DAT taping, and now, because of mp3s, there's no way I forsee themselves changing their minds. If, however, you started your own label, you could authorize rental, and stores would be perfectly able to rent out your records. In practicality, though, unless you've got the approval of the big record companies, there's no reason to set up a rental section in your store just to carry 15 indie CDs, hence it doesn't happen.

In Japan, the CDs at rental shops are much like the video tapes at US rental shops: they cost the rental shop significantly (I forget the amount, but I believe it's between 10 to 20 times) more than buying a CD for personal use. It takes a little digging to find out, though, because unlike video tapes in the US, the CD jacket is not reprinted, so there is nothing to look at on the CD jacket that indicates that it's for rental use.

Trivia on the side: in Japan, there is CD rental, but there is no console video game rental, for the same reason. It would exist if Sony, MS, or Nintendo allowed it, but they don't. (Note: I believe that, legally, it is Sont, MS, and Nintendo that have the legal say-so for rental, and not the individual game publishers, but that may be incorrect. I have no hard evidence for it)
posted by Bugbread at 7:11 PM on November 18, 2004

I've always though that the sale (with the unspoken agreement to buy back at, say, $1 less) model looked appealilng. Is there anything illegal about that?

(Konichiwa , bugbread!)
posted by squirrel at 10:57 PM on November 18, 2004

Hi! I just completed a final paper on the first sale doctrine and digital music for a freshman seminar in music censorship at Carleton College, and through my research became rather familiar with the amendment to Title 17 Section 109 that prevents unauthorized for-profit record rentals.

Early on, many rental stores were clear-cut fronts for piracy, and even offered high-speed, in-store record -> tape duplicators. This practice was contested in court and ruled to support piracy. In response, the duplicators were removed and stores began advertising free or discounted blank tapes with rentals, some even posted fliers telling consumers that through rentals, they'd "Never, Ever, Buy Another Record!!"

The issue was eventually introduced into legislation and taken to the House Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties, and the Administration of Justice. The hearing is chronicled in GovDoc callnumber: Y 4.J 89/1:98/101, which should be held by any Federal Depository Library. You can locate your local depository at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/libraries.html

To encourage you to actually go read the hearing, I'll leave you with a few interesting tidbits:
(p. 112) Mr. Frank: I have on this committee gotten more of a technological education than a legal one. Is it possible at all to put out a record which is difficult to reproduce? Is there anything you can do technologically, in the production of records that makes it difficult to tape it?
(p.162) Under this proposal, all that would stop and the records would not even be available. I don't know whether some of those can be bought anywhere. I believe the only way that somebody can really acquire these recordings is by reason of the availability for taping; otherwise, they wouldn't have it at all. So we're not just talking about that brand new record that comes out.
(p. 167) Now that throws a new light on the first sale doctrine, because under the original first sale doctrine nobody could copy it anyway. For all practical purposes, you would need to go into open commercial, outright visible production and you would be caught violating it. You couldn't do it in your own home as a practical matter. And now, because of the change to the recorded word and the ability to copy, you can now, with almost impunity, and under present mechanisms, notwithstanding the decision it's illegal, nobody can stop you for all practical purposes.
(p. 214) The first sale doctrine is a long-established principle of copyright law that extends the monopoly right of the copyright owner to control distribution only so far as the first sale. A key element of the doctrine is that is grants a purchaser the right to rent a copy of a copyrighted work.
The document also contains copies of some of the fliers exhibited by the RIAA in support of record rentals shops condoning piracy! Go to a library, check it out, and read it! It's great fun, especially considering the state the industry is in today!
posted by SemiSophos at 1:27 AM on November 19, 2004

Actually, there *are* legal, commercial CD rentals. Well, sort of. Second-hand music stores will sell you a used CD for, say, ten bucks. If you bring it back at a later date, they'll buy it back from you for, say, five dollars. In effect, you've rented the CD for five dollars.

It's been quite some time, though, since I've been in a used music store, so the situation might have changed drastically as of late, what with mp3s and six year olds getting sued and the like. As I recall, there was even a bit of a tiff within the music vending industry re: stores which sold new and used CDs in the same space. I'm not sure how all of that turned out.

In any event, I'm confident that, somewhere out there, the buy-back model is still an active part of the economy.
posted by Clay201 at 2:46 AM on November 19, 2004

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