By and large, writing about movies, music and books is a great gig. You'll never get rich, but if you're the kind of person inclined to spend your money on movies, music and books, you save some dough, since a lot of that stuff comes in the mail. And what you don't want, you can sell off, so long as it doesn't have "PROMOTIONAL" stamped on it. Even if it does, so be it. When it comes to music, I really just want to hear the songs.

But that's been getting tougher lately. More and more, labels have been sending out promotional CDs that have been copy-protected and "watermarked." They won't play in my computer. They won't play on my living room stereo (which has a built-in CD burner). I had to buy a portable discman a month ago just so I could listen to some of the stuff I get assigned to review. And when the review's done, the CD's pretty much useless, since I can't rip the tracks into my iPod. If I ever want to hear the new Foo Fighters again, I've either got to drag out my discman or buy a finalized copy.

In theory, these measures are supposed to prevent piracy, but the logic seems a little off. If the disc has been watermarked so that my identity is embedded in the tracks, why does it have to be copy-protected to boot? And more than once I've gotten a copy-protected CD that's been available for a week or more on iTunes, which means that theoretically someone could've paid $9.99 and posted the tracks anywhere. In fact, once this year, when a publicist could only send me a link to a streaming version of a record I was supposed to review, I got a friend to find a copy on-line and burn it for me. Yo-ho-ho.

Now, this is a petty, inside-baseball complaint, I realize. But the critic community has increasingly been treated like criminals by the people who are supposed to be helping us do our jobs (and, in theory, publicize their clients' work). We get "wanded" at movie screenings, we get asked to go to "listening parties" rather than getting advance CDs, and when we get CDs, we can't play them. What recourse do we have? Not much. We can just refuse to write a review … which in a lot of cases wouldn't break the publicists' hearts.

Or we could suck it up, pay our own way in the world, and just run reviews a week or so after release dates. I'd be fine with that, truth be told. Anything not to have to do this little piracy dance anymore.