08/30/2005 10:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Time to Steal Music Again

The New York Times reports that the big music companies are fighting Apple Computer over the pricing of their music. Apple wants to maintain its uniform pricing policy of 99 cents a song; the record companies want to charge more.

Which's time to steal music again!

Let me explain.

Apple saved the music business by getting people to pay for digital downloads, which they'd previously shown no desire to do. Music consumers had long felt so ripped off by music companies that they felt no shame about returning the favor. Apple changed the equation by providing a player that worked brilliantly, the iPod; elegant software to go with it, iTunes; and pricing songs and albums fairly, at 99 cents and $9.99 respectively. Apple proved that, given the right economic incentive, most people would prefer not to break the law.

Now, in their infinite wisdom, the record companies have forgotten how bad things were before iTunes and want to jack up prices. (Note, for example, that the new Death Cab for Cutie album, one of this fall's most-anticipated releases, costs $11.99 on iTunes today. All that the market will bear, as Frank Norris would say.)

The detente between music buyers and music sellers is pretty shaky. There could be no faster way for the record companies to alienate consumers yet again than by picking this fight. So of course, that's exactly what they're doing.

The result: Music sales will decline, and illegal downloading will increase. Which is as it should be.