Unstoppable Trend? Survey Says Online Music Swap Pervasive

March 18, 2002 | Source: MSNBC

Despite controversy over Web-based downloadable music, recent surveys show that this online trend is gaining momentum.

American youth, turned off by limited radio song selections and lured by the ease of Internet access, collect thousands of songs online without ever paying a cent.In particular, rising CD costs have turned many US college students into Web music download aficionados. Many have even traded in their stereos, using their PCs as virtual jukeboxes instead.

Free file swapping sites (or peer-to-peer networks) like KaZaa, Morpheus, and Grokster allow users to share songs by trading MP3s, a popular file compression technique that condenses CD quality music into small digital files.

A recent Ipsos-Reid survey indicated that 23 percent of Americans age 12 and older have downloaded music off the Internet; 44 percent ages 12-17 have done so, as have 42 percent in the 18-24 age group.

Music industry execs and recording artists claim the no-pay music swapping sites undercut the industry’s right to profit from copyrighted songs. They claim that such digital piracy threatens the entire record industry, which pulls in a cool $16 billion a year.

Citing a 10 percent decline in revenue last year, record labels are fighting back with lawsuits and lobbyists. Pushing for legislation that would outlaw free file-swapping sites, they propose fee-based or subscription-based services. Some labels have even encoded new CDs with technology to prevent them from being copied or played properly on a PC.

During the Feb. 27 Grammy Awards broadcast, Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) harangued, “This illegal file-sharing and ripping of music files is pervasive, out of control and oh so criminal.”

Others argue that the music industry is dangerously behind the times, with an outmoded pricing, sales, and distribution system that ignores the computer-savvy, techno generation that represents its most ardent consumer.

While radio playlists are strictly limited to demographic formats, the Internet offers global access to wide ranges of music, regardless of popularity or commercial backing.

Some say that the record industry has turned a blind eye to their consumer’s desires and is now paying the price.

While the battle rages on, members in both camps of the downloadable music war agree that the music industry is in the midst of a technological and social revolution.