Music lovers in China have been downloading songs for free from various websites. How long will that last? What are the consequences for the music industry and its future?
Rumors that major Chinese websites will start charging for downloading of music in 2013 remain as rumors. Music lovers can still download music for free from websites like Baidu.com, QQ.com and Kugou.com.
Many netizens feel relieved by the fact. Some had been trying to hoard as many songs as possible before the Dec 31 "deadline".
But for music professionals, it means that they still have to wait until they can claim warranted shares from the market.
According to a recent survey by Sina.com, about 83 percent of Chinese netizens do not want to pay for downloading music. This is a whole generation who has grown up listening to music for free, since the Internet made it possible more than 10 years ago.
There are very few places where you can still buy CDs, either original or pirated. The norm now is just a click on your computer or mobile phone and the music will play.
It seems that not many people are aware that music doesn't come from nowhere, but is made by professionals who devote their lives to music making. They are entitled to proceeds from their work, which supports them to continue to make music.
The free sharing of music, on the contrary, has largely made music recording a charitable enterprise. As a result, music labels have closed down one after another in recent years.
One of the hottest singers in China at the moment, Li Daimo, released a new CD consisting entirely of covers of classic pop numbers. Like most other new Chinese pop singers, Li became famous because of his appearance in a TV talent show.
In the past, a singer's success was inseparable from his or her signature songs, but today, with few left in the business of making music, there is virtually no opportunity for a singer to shine with just a song.
There is a theory that the music industry's loss in recordings has been compensated by an increase in live performances. But music writing, which is the foundation of the music business, is not encouraged under the current system. And without it, there won't be momentum for the development of the art.
Online music has been a very important feature of major websites in providing multimedia entertainment for Internet users, and those websites have benefited greatly from the use of music.
By not acknowledging creators of music works with their due shares, the websites are killing the music business, which will eventually have no content to profit from. It is like the Chinese idiom "draining the pond to get the fish". When there is no water, there are no fish.
There is already progress compared to five years ago, when artists and production companies got practically nothing from websites who offered free downloads. Now most major websites pay some fees to the copyright owners.
But that fee is obviously not enough to sustain the music industry. China didn't provide much original and exciting music in the last decade compared to the previous one, although cheap-sounding works made through amateur computer software are flourishing.
There is another problem with the current model of websites paying royalties with advertising proceeds, and netizens downloading music for free: In the long run, it will not be ourselves who decide what we hear, but the major websites.
During the early phase of the Internet, people used to say that the Internet freed us from the tyranny of major record companies that decided what people should hear, but now it seems we have shifted to become slaves of major websites.
It is unclear when the payable music downloading will be put into practice in China. The negotiation between music content holders and websites may take some time, but how to balance the interests of different parties is just a technical question. Charging for music downloading in the future is inevitable.
Hopefully this will be a positive factor for Chinese music. After all, we all want to hear good music. Why not support your favorite musicians by buying their works so that you can hear more in the long run?
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