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Legitimate Music Downloads in the UK: A fair deal?
April 3, 2004
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The British Phonographic Industry claims the “UK is at the forefront of new legal download services.” Courtesy of promotional cans from Coca-Cola, some know of Mycokemusic.

So what else is available for the legitimate downloader? What do legitimate downloaders get for their hard earned cash?

A list of BPI supported sites can be acquired from their website:

> HMV |
> MSN |
> Freeserve |
> Mycokemusic |
> Wippit |
> Virgin |
> Playlouder |
> Bleep |
> StreetsOnline | also provides links to legal sites.

After recently proclaiming its 1 millionth user and bragging 100,000 downloads since January, Mycokemusic is the leading legitimate download site in the UK.

Mycokemusic has a quick and clean sign up process. With no additional software necessary, users can browse and start downloading without delay.

The first thing to strike me was the prices. It is astonishing to see the website proudly announce that tracks only cost 99 pence, when it is widely known the other side of the Atlantic pays 99 cents. Perhaps Coke thought users would not notice the different currencies?

The BPI is quick to defend Coke for the price differences, contending that the playing field is not completely level. “The US benefit from a) Greater economies of scale b) Smaller sales tax (6% as opposed to 25% in some places in Europe) and c) Lower costs,” argues Matt Phillips from the BPI. These are the same reasons used for excessive CD prices. In a truly competitive market, the profit margins of the industry would absorb much of the extra costs, rather than passing them on to the consumer. Future research will surely discover the truth.

Those wanting to help the BPI fight for lower and fairer taxes on recordings in the UK should visit the BPI website.

/> Not to be deterred by the price, whatever the reason, I continued on. After all, perhaps Mycokemusic offers a superior service.

Browsing around the available tracks is easy, and the simple and intuitive layout invites users to look around freely. Free music clips are available with a simple click and with Windows Media Player integrated with Internet Explorer, play lists of clips can be made.

Songs can either be streamed to the user’s computer for 1 penny, or downloaded for an unlimited number of plays for 99 pence. I opted for the full download.

After choosing a track, the first drawback of the service arises. Fresh recruits from file sharing, who are accustomed to a wide choice of bit rates and file sizes, will be disappointed. Mycokemusic, as with the larger brands in the US, work on a “like it or lump it” basis. Audiophiles will certainly choose the latter option.

The transfer was swift, and with a sense of righteousness the file landed safely in “my downloads” folder. It was time to play the file.

The next stage involves the user gritting his or her teeth as the dreaded letters “DRM” appear on screen. This is, of course, the service’s downfall. Even the BPI admits DRM may be “irritating for consumers at first“. The Data Rights Management (DRM) is there for no other reason than to restrict the use of the music that has just been paid for. After all, DRM does not hinder music from appearing on p2p networks. In fact, music can frequently be obtained using p2p before availability in the shops.

This is a point the industry struggles to grasp. In response to these comments, Matt Phillips replied, “as a label you have to strike a balance between protecting from theft and offering a good service…you can understand labels' reluctance to omit DRM when millions of files are being shared illegally.”

Larry Kenswil, president of the media and technology division of Universal Music Group, appears to be half way there. When arguing for DRM to allow unlimited copies to CD, he says, "[by not allowing unlimited copies, customers will] rip the CD they've burned to the computer and make as many copies as they want anyway. And now they've got a computer full of MP3 files, which is what you were trying to avoid when you so carefully wrapped your file in a DRM in the first place." By the same token, those intent on moving the files onto p2p can use the same method.

Other than Warp Record’s, who are unsupported by the major record labels, the problem of DRM will be found at all the services listed by the BPI. Those downloading music illegally are enjoying flexibility and choice, whilst DRM makes the customer feel like a criminal. “Personally I don't feel like a criminal when I buy a pair of jeans and find a security tag on them,” reacts Matt Phillips. True, but security tags are removed, rather than attached, when the purchase is made.

The solution to the industry offending customers does not lie in making those using p2p feel more like villains. Instead, the benefits of MP3 files should be given to those using legitimate services. Consecutive Governments have been proving that you cannot force people onto buses by making cars worse. Buses can not be made as flexible as cars, but legal downloads can be made as flexible as those from a p2p network.

This article does not ask the industry to make everything available for free. Instead, it asks for a fair deal for paying customers.

The industry will continue to defend DRM. Throughout the comments on DRM from Matt Phillips is the theme that DRM is not to annoy customers, but to do something about mass piracy. He backs this up with a dangerous claim that “the music industry is losing money hand over fist.”

The BPI pronounced that there are no longer any excuses for music lovers using p2p. This statement is contended. Not until prices are competitive and legitimate services have the same level of choice and flexibility will file sharers run out of practical excuses.

The industry does not hesitate to highlight that it still leaves file sharers without moral excuses for stealing. Plenty of file sharers would dispute this, maintaining that the industry is getting what it deserves, or that they don’t buy less music because of p2p.

Whatever the arguments, music lovers who are not happy with legitimate services are being left in the cold. It is apparent the industry would rather this than to take the simple steps to improve the services. Continue to add music. Add a choice of bit-rates. Reduce the price. Remove DRM.

It is predicted that another 7.4 million people in the UK want to start downloading soon. They have a choice of using p2p or legal services.

The new customers that chose legal downloading will find a growing range of creative services, but with the current restrictions imposed, they will not be getting a fair deal.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Authorized Music Store :: Other

British Phonographic Industry

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