Should Downloaded Music Be Free?

I saw this little article on TechCrunch, and then clicked on a link to a BBC article, and then, well... Google is offering free downloads of licensed music tracks in China. Of all the places in the world, China! This is because the biggest search engine in China, Baidu, also offers links to free downloads and that 99% of all tracks distributed in China are unlicensed. The market value of China's legitimate music sales is a pathetic $76 million. Yes, millions, not billions!

So, are you still feeling guilty for downloading those music tracks from your favourite P2P file sharing platform? The days of paying for recorded music may be numbered. Google will share advertising revenue with those record labels that are partnering this programme, with some 350,000 tracks available. However,"Google said it had no plans to expand its music service beyond China." So, if you live in a part of the world where most music, and video, is copied and redistributed then you get rewarded for this by having the producers give it away for free anyway. If, on the other hand, you live in a country where you are told that it is immoral to copy material then you will just have to keep paying for it. Market capitalism is fantastic, isn't it?!

So, the question remains, not whether it is legal or not to copy and share files but whether you still feel... well... that it's somehow wrong! But even the record labels have given up on this argument, so why feel guilty when everyone has thousands of tracks on their computer? Also, with so much streamed music you can listen to what you want when you want so long as you have a decent broadband connection, and all for free (apart from the connection charge).

Let's look at it another way. Before recording media were available musicians made a living from playing live. That's all they could do. Some actually made money from their copyright on songs printed as sheet music so that other people could play the same tunes. Apart from that, it was either live, or you lived with silence.

Once music could be recorded as easily as printing a book then musicians suddenly became very rich. They just needed to record one song and have millions of copies made and they earnt money on every copy. Now, is one song worth millions of pounds? How many times would an artist have to play that same song live to earn the same million pounds? I'm not denying them the money, I just want to show that what was a live entertainment business had become a recorded entertainment business through technology, and that now the march of technology may well mean that it goes back to being a live entertainment business.

All of which means that we the consumers should also adjust our moral standpoint. Music means live music, with all the human interaction that comes with it. Recorded music is just what it is, an advertisement to get you to a live event. Enjoy the concert and enjoy the free music files.
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