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Print Edition> Lifestyle
UPDATED: December 24, 2012 NO. 52 DECEMBER 27, 2012
Twilight for Free Music?
Netizens and musicians lament looming anti-piracy measures
By Yuan Yuan

MUSIC FOR MONEY: Zhang Yadong (left), Executive Director of the Music Copyright Society of China, signs a payment contract on January 13 with Gong Zhengwen, Vice President of Hunan Broadcasting System (WANG JIANHUA)

Music downloads have surged in China in response to the recent news that providers may start demanding users pay up in 2013.

It was reported at the end of October that Warner Music Group, Universal Music and Sony Music Entertainment were talking with major online music providers in China, such as Baidu, QQ and Sogou, to set up a scheme that will charge individual users for music downloads.

The deal between Chinese music sites and three of the world's biggest record labels could signal the end of free music downloads in China.

"Many Chinese don't have any notion of paying to listen to music, and this is going to change for sure," said Ma Jichao, an official from the China Audio-Video Copyright Association (CAVCA).

Balance of interests

To balance the interests among websites, intermediaries and copyright owners are a crucial issue in the oncoming trend of paid music downloads.

"In 2009, the digital music sector harvested 20 billion yuan ($3.21 billion) from ringtone business alone. Since then the profits for digital music have been even higher. But the income of copyright owners, including lyricists, composers and copyright agencies, is less than 1 percent of profits. This means most musical works do not bring any profit to the original creators," said Shen Yongge, President of Bamboo Cultural Co. Ltd., a leading record company in China.

Liu Deliang, Director of the Beijing-based Asia-Pacific Institute for Cyber-law Studies, said that the fee proposal "is neither realistic nor represents the future of Internet music" because it lacks profitability.

"The government has made more efforts to protect intellectual property rights in recent years. However, the effect is not ideal, because it will make the proposed website charges difficult to carry out," Liu said. "Rather than charging individual Internet users, online music providers should focus on changing their profit models and ensuring that profits are distributed between websites and record labels fairly."

Chen Lingling, a 21-year-old college student from the Renmin University of China in Beijing, is not happy to pay for music downloads. "Listening to music online is part of my life now. I never thought someday I would have to pay for that, even with little money in my pocket," Chen said.

"I don't think it is a matter of money," Zhang Beini, a manager at Baidu Music, told China Daily. "Say we charge 1 yuan ($0.16) for one track. I think users can afford it."

Zhang added that many people misunderstand the difference between downloading and streaming music. "We only charge for music downloads. If you just listen to music online, it is still free."

IT industry analyst Xie Wen said that the fee proposal is being raised as part of the country's efforts to reorganize its Internet and music industries, as the possibility of charging users for music downloads, a practice that has proven successful overseas, also seems feasible in China.

"This move is legal and logical, although labels and Internet companies will need to weigh consumers' responses, as well as the plan's business prospects," Xie said. "Unpopular as it may first appear, the move toward paid downloads of music and films is inevitable."

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