Legal Music Downloads

Legal music downloads!! On July 28, 2004, French Internet access providers and musiccopyright owners signed a joint national charter aimed atcracking down on illegal downloads and expanding the amount oflegal music downloads available online (AFP). This is the latest ina series of moves taken across the world to combat music piracyas production labels see more and more of their profits beinglost to illegal downloads of music files.

The music industry has been saying the same thing for severalyears now: peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks areexponentially distributing pirated music across the worldthrough the Internet, and this constitutes a copyrightinfringement. In English, this means that the fact that Idownloaded a Tori Amos track through Kazaa yesterday and amlistening to it right now makes me a criminal. So far, so good.Quite true as well.

But the real problem is not that people do not want to pay formusic. Often I sample new music off the Internet before buyingthe CDs. Chances are that if I like most of the album, I'm goingto buy it. On the surface this is what radio stations do whenthey play music. The difference, however, is that it has becomeinsanely easy for me to acquire almost-as-good-as-originalquality mp3s of any track that I want to listen to, and even ifI don't pay a dime, no one is there to catch me.

The principle of accountability has vanished. When one sees thatthere are two ways to acquire the same product, but bysacrificing a little‚ bit of quality you can get it for freewithout being penalized for it, what would most rational peopledo? P2P networks have made finding music off the Internetridiculously easy, and most of us tend to forget‚ our socialresponsibility when it comes to such trivial‚ matters. Tocontribute to this, copy-protection techniques used on CDs bymajor production houses are always a step behind the latestcracking algorithms, and steps taken to prevent ripping‚ of CDsand DVDs have proven fruitless so far.

Enter legal music downloads. Disregarding the smallnumber of free‚ legal music downloads available for promotional purposes,more and more artists and labels have begun to provide apay-per-download music service. In essence, you can purchaseindividual tracks or complete albums through a secure onlinetransaction and then download your purchase‚ and, with variablelimits to personal use, pretty much do whatever you want to dowith it (Several providers digitally encode the files to preventthem from being played on other computers, or to be burned ontoCD-Rs) This is both a move to encourage free-riders such as meto start acquiring legal music downloads and an economic adjustment tothe digital music revolution. Developing technologies arechanging the way people perceive and use music. The advent ofiPod and other mp3 players has meant that more and more peopleare becoming accustomed to carrying around their complete musiccollections with the latest players offering space for around10,000 songs. This holds frightening possibilities for recordcompanies. There is a very real concern within the industry thatthe CD format is fast going out of style, and as technologyevolves, consumer demands for the best Œmedium‚ will change aswell. Till a few years ago audio CDs offered unparalleled musicquality, a factor record companies used to encourage people tobuy instead of steal (download). However, today's high-qualitydigital formats mean that audio quality is comparable, and insome cases equal to CDs. Some experts are even starting topredict that within a decade CDs will become history as digitalmusic will evolve to a point where we will be have access to ourentire music collection (hopefully paid for) wherever we wantit: in our car, at work, anywhere in the house, even on thebeach. Matched with promises (and the reality) of audio quality,this is a serious threat to traditional business.

Thus, providing legal music downloads online is a means of the industrytrying to position itself to take advantage of the rising trendof portable music collections. A quick glance across majoronline music stores tells us exactly so. While offeringfree-riders affordable music (allowing them to purchase only thetracks they like instead of forcing them to buy the completealbum) to ensure that they do not turn to music piracy, siteslike eMusic and Apple's iTunes are backing the new trend.iTunes, Apple's online music store, has the added distinction ofbeing supported by perhaps the best mp3 player in the business,the iPod. In this combination, Apple has found a very securemarketing brand and ensured that it takes full advantage of thiscross between technology and music.

Legal music downloads appear to be the perfect answer tostopping music piracy, at least the downloading kind. Thereforethere is no surprise when one sees major record labels pushingto expand such services. However, recent developments tend tomake us question what the overall agenda really is. After aperiod of consolidation of the digital music market in the lasttwo years, albums available for download online are being pricedhigher than they would normally be in retail stores. It used tobe that you could download a song for $0.99 and a complete albumfor $9.99, but now stores are setting higher prices, with tracksgoing for $1.50 or even $2.49 and $11.50 albums being sold for$12.50 and $13.00 online. What is going on? In positioningthemselves to take advantage of changing market forces, themusic industry has also hit upon another major factor indetermining sales: consumer behavior. Legal music downloadsoffer people like me the comfort of never having to waste timein retail stores looking for my favorite track from high-schooldays or wondering when the latest album of Nickelback would hitthe shelves. Instead, all the hassles are removed witheverything easily searchable, previewable and downloadable fromthe comfort of my computer chair (and this baby is very, very,comfortable). Consumers may not be usually rational, but theyare always looking to save the effort when it comes to makingany sort of purchases. Online stores (or is it the majorrecording labels? Who knows) are now cashing into this veryaspect of human psychology and are beginning to charge extra fora service they are portraying now as a privilege. Having alreadyconsolidated their core target market, the time has now come toincrease revenues.

Would this drive people back towards music piracy? Highlyunlikely. People are not evil, or criminal, by nature. Appealsto their better nature usually work, and that is the strategyadopted by agencies like the Recording Industry Association ofAmerica (RIAA) who are actively involved in putting a stop toillegal music sharing. Media campaigns encouraging music loversto pay a dollar or two for tracks instead of Œcommitting acrime‚ by downloading them for free are actually working asslowly but surely, more and more people flock to online musicstores. And with existing customers sticking to this moreŒcomfortable‚ way of buying music, the industry is finallystarting to win back ground it lost due to music piracy.

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