You heard a song on the radio and if you liked it you could buy 78rpm record for the Victrola.
Later, the 45 rpm 7″ single. Or LP, cassette, or 8-track. With the 8-track or cassette, you could even make a “mixtape” of songs that you like. Or to give as a lovingly-curated-snapshot-of -your-musical-taste gift. The powerful music trade industries were not pleased, and convinced many that “home recording is killing music.”
Later still DAT, DCC, MiniDisc, and CD came along as formats. These were a little different, said the RIAA, as now perfect copies, right down to the bits of data, could be made on consumer equipment. RIAA flexed its muscle and passed legislation that both made it difficult to do so and placed a tax on blank items to make up for the certain piracy that was to occur. Paranoia was so great that the manufacturers even hobbled their machines to comply.
When you buy that song you heard on the radio [or internet radio, or satellite radio, or ? today] through online, the retailers are tightly managing the rights of the material purchased. Those songs can be burned to CD in certain configurations a limited number of times, and cannot be shared digitally with others without hacking the DRM “lock” on them. You may not be able to play them on your portable player!
Music fans are bummed by what they perceive to be a situation that views them as criminals the moment they become paying customers. They are not the only ones. France and Germany have recently stood up to the iTunes/iPod hegemony to voice their concerns.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Some music companies are seeing the writing on the wall and instead of considering consumers criminals from the start, they are trusting them by offering song downloads for sale that are not bound with tons of restrictions. The NY Times had a story about it, even. I can make mixCDs, put them on my portable players, or listen to them with any computer.