Recently, there was quite an uproar when a high-ranking official said it was inevitable that at some point people would have to start paying to download music.
"Charging to download music is a growing trend, so it would be understandable to see online operators getting fees from their users," Yan Xiaohong, deputy director of China’s National Copyright Administration, was quoted as saying by China Daily on April 25.
This idea is widely accepted in the recording industry, which has been suffering decades of declining revenues due to digital piracy. In 2011, the audio and visual recordings industry had roughly 280 million yuan ($45.43 million) in revenue, compared to the 380 million yuan in the online music market.
“Legal copies of music will prevail as videos did several years ago… regardless of whether or not you have to pay for the music; the most important matter is to allow legal copies to prevail. It is not about money, it is about the musician’s dignity,” Gao Xiaosong, a popular Chinese songwriter and music producer, told Information Times.
A report released on April 23 by the Ministry of Culture shows that the online and mobile music markets continued to show steady growth. By the end of 2012, the online music market amounted to 1.82 billion yuan, an increase of 379 percent over 2011. The number of users rose by 13 percent to 436 million.
The Chinese market is still dominated by free music, and online music performances have now become an important source of revenue, according to the Ministry of Culture.
About 575 companies operate in the sector. For example, industrial giants, led by Baidu, Tencent and NetEase, launched online platforms and apps to expand their foray into music, while at the same time, signed cooperation pacts with record labels to pool resources.
The mobile music market, on the other hand, grew to 2.72 billion yuan in 2012 from 2.4 billion yuan in 2011, thanks to the wide popularity of smart phones, mobile devices and mobile music stores. Users stood at nearly 750 million, about 66.9 percent of all mobile users, said the report.
It does bring up some interesting questions. Many Chinese users have long taken free online content for granted, including pirated books, films and music. When asked if they would pay to download online music, only twenty percent of the respondents said yes, reported the news website Changsha.cn.
That may explain the flourishing façade behind websites where illegal copies of films and music abound. But as the country intensifies efforts to protect intellectual property, these file-sharing websites have been blocked or closed one by one. A big problem may arise for Internet users: will they have to pay for online music?
So far, the industry has not worked out a charging timetable or concrete plans as to how to collect fees. But major news websites and social networks are abuzz with talks of charging for music tracks and albums, reflecting the mixed attitudes towards intellectual property protection.
“Since you are doing business in China, music that has a price will not attract users. Even if you support paying to download online music, there will be few people to buy because many users are listening to the music on music websites and apps,” said one user, Moxinyanyu (墨心烟雨).
“Though some sites violate intellectual property laws, the fact is they do help share knowledge. We have to confront the demands for good films and music from the bottom. The government has to take these demands into consideration when taking measures to protect intellectual property,” said another user Feizitian (飛子Tian).
“It is natural to pay to download online music. If not, how can the recorded music companies survive? It is free online music that has depressed the market for recorded music. So, will charging for music revive the industry? ” said Sina Weibo user Tuoersitai (-托耳思態-).
“I think it is right for us to pay before downloading online music. It is an overdue move. The rampant online piracy deprives musicians and artists of what they deserve, and then degrades the quality of Chinese music,” said DriftAwayTeamZero.
“There should be no controversy about charging for online music. Free music and books are public welfare in the early stage of the Internet Age. With the passage of time and rising social awareness, it is natural to pay…. When we are listening free music online, we are acting like thieves stealing money from musicians’ pockets. The sense of guilt cannot be wiped off because all of us are stealing,” said Chachabushixiaopangzi_Xiachachaweibodaren (茶茶不是小胖子_夏叉叉微博达人).
“What will life be like if we have to pay for all online music?” asked spicy-chilli.
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