Next time you download that song or swap music files with a friend, just think of that chap across the road who works for a music company. Every time a song is downloaded illegally from the web his chances of keeping his job shrink.
Music is big business on the web, but people just won’t pay and music companies are complaining loudly despite soaring digital sales. Piracy is rampant, and there are few who can stop it unless governments start acting. IFPI, the international trade body of the music industry, said last week that tens of billions of illegal files were swapped in 2007 — the ratio of unlicensed tracks downloaded to legal sales was about 20 to 1. That’s a huge gap, which will likely take a long time to fill.
It is improbable that the widespread piracy would end quickly. Most of us would rather download for free from websites just for thrills quite forgetting that each download also brings along spyware and viruses that would eventually kill our machines.
Sometime back, I asked a friend to upload some songs into my iPod. He came back complaining — the iTunes software was giving him trouble because … a lot of songs on his computer were downloaded for free from hundreds of websites that offer pirated versions. Ho, hum! Who cares? Not in India or China. But if I were in France, I would.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy, in the news for his yet unconfirmed marriage with Carla Bruni, is also a man of ideas and the ailing music industry could thank him for his last year’s decision to deny Internet access to those downloading music and films illegally. The troubled industry — which saw sales falling faster last year — is hoping the world would follow France.
There is hope, however, and some of it is reflected in the numbers. According to IFPI, global digital music sales were worth around $3 billion in 2007, a roughly 40 per cent increase over the previous year. Single track downloads — the most popular digital music format — grew by 53 per cent to 1.7 billion.
Digital sales now account for an estimated 15 per cent of the global music market, up from 11 per cent in 2006 and zero in 2003.
In the United States — the world’s biggest digital music market — online and mobile sales now account for 30 per cent of all revenues. Poor cousins, CDs, are fast going out of favour as more than 500 legitimate digital music services worldwide offer more than 6 million tracks.
The troubles of the music industry lie not in the developed world but in places like China and Latin America where an expansion in broadband is pushing unauthorised file sharing, according to IFPI.
Online peer-to-peer networks are the biggest culprits, accounting for the largest share of online copyright theft.
The industry would want governments to act by bringing in tougher laws, but the onus lies on the users. Next time you get to a website that offers illegal downloads, think of Sarkozy and that friend who lives across the road who might lose his job as CDs shift to the digital world.