Record companies to charge for "earworms"

Ever get a song caught in your head? Soon, you might have to pay for it.

The recording industry has tried a lot of tricks to shore up their revenues as CD sales have fallen: installing CD anti-coyping software that is almost impossible to remove, suing customers for allegedly downloading songs without paying, and floating the idea of adding a few bucks to monthly ISP bills to compensate rights holders for illegal downloads.

This is your brain on April Fools' Day.
"I've got my mind set. On. You." That'll be $0.05, please. NASA via Wikimedia Commons

Now, several labels are dreaming up a scheme to charge music fans any time they get a song stuck in their head. The technology is a few years away, but according to several well-placed sources in Hollywood, the labels are funding an organization known as Earworm Research Labs to come up with a speciialized low-cost variation of MRI technology. Unlike the MRI machines used in hospitals, these scanners would focus only on a specific part of the brain--the part that shows activity when you have a song running through your head.

The goal is to get these scanners small enough and cheap enough to be built into cell phones. When users lift the phone to their ears, the scanner would beam a stream of electrons at the appropriate part of the brain and transmit the scan results back to a centralized database containing the brain patterns for millions of popular song. If a match is found, that would mean you had a particular song in your head at that moment, and cellular company would add a few cents to your bill. The proceeds would be split among rights holders, with the phone company taking a cut for enabling the service.

Sounds like a great idea to me--I know there's plenty of music in my head that I've never paid for, like George Harrison's "I've Got My Mind Set On You," "We Will Rock You" by Queen, and Billy Squier's "The Stroke." Those artists have obviously reached me in a deep, substantial way--why shouldn't I have to pay them?

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.


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