BOSTON — The jukebox was broken.
It wasn't that the Wurlitzer didn't play. Push a button and the listed record popped up and blasted its song.
Just a bunch of teens hanging out at the local soda fountain after school. I was in the seventh grade. We listened that day for free. No one asked if "broken" was a mechanical failure or an electrical short caused by someone kicking the machine.
Tunes cost 10 cents, three for a quarter. The correct change set in motion a mechanical arm that magically selected a vinyl platter, placed it on a spinning turntable, lowered a diamond tipped needle, and ... music.
Payment, to the owner of the jukebox, the musicians, singers, songwriters, and producers of the record company - in essence copyright holders - was the furthest thing from anyone's mind. We were getting the music we wanted, when we wanted it, at no cost.
Fast forward to 1999. The jukebox is the Internet. What if when you point at a browser and clicked a mouse, no coin deposited, a record played (as many times as you could stand to listen to it) for anyone, anywhere on the Web for any music you wanted to hear?
We look at the song-dispensing power of the Internet (page 17). The new music machine, recording studio, and radio station rolled into one, uses a digitally compressed format known as MP3, (MPEG-1 Layer-3, for you techies) to download music to the desktop.
But unlike that one-time occurrence when I was growing up, royalties - to songwriters, musicians, and record companies, not to mention legal fees to attorneys to secure those royalties by enforcing copyrights - are very much on everyone's mind in the multibillion-dollar music industry.
Just how it all will shake out remains to be heard. I'm confident copyright law won't miss a beat.