Music doesn't pay, especially in China, where Baidu.com is offering free unlicensed music downloads. Robin Li, Baidu's co-founder and chief executive, seems to understand the value of keeping his sizable traffic well-fed with free downloads. The Wall Street Journal reports that 90% of China's Web users, which is estimated to be about 162 million people, access pirated music from their computers every day, and Robin Li is well aware of this. The sad part of this whole equation is that it's not just the big evil record labels that are losing millions, it's the local Chinese Artists that are struggling to make ends meet and all artists that are on global labels.
Understanding how far behind they are in China, Google is trying hard to launch a digital "watermark" that can track downloads while giving away the music for free in China. Convincing the record labels who still want to get paid for exploiting the artists, and are still angry at the disruption technology has caused to their cash flow is a whole different game. Google obviously cannot replicate the unethical tactics of Baidu, they would be sued by every record label this side of the border. Google has managed to convince one lone star, Universal, and are still working on Sony and EMI to join in the "watermark" program. The hope is to make royalties through ad revenue. There seems to be no other way to make money on the web these days anyways. So really, "if you can't beat 'em, then join 'em" is the only philosophy that seems to have emerged. Giving music away for free is not a bad idea, it's just one idea. But music is never free. It costs someone.
On the other side of the coin, there are those who are fighting hard to make sure performers and artists get paid for all time, effort and energy they put into creating music. Having attended various advocacy initiatives related to performance rights and artists' rights with NARAS, I know first-hand how piracy hurts music creators. There is a cost to creating music that people forget.
According to the Institute for Policy Innovation, global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year and 71,060 U.S. jobs. It's not hard to understand we have a problem, but everyone does it and truly there is no real way to regulate it at this juncture in our technology and psychology. We want what we want, and we want it right now. Right ?
The interesting thing to me in all of this is, even with the global piracy of music the way it is, creators of music still put all their heart, time and energy into making the music we all listen to. Last week, I attended the ASCAP Awards in LA. For those of you who dont know what ASCAP is, its a NGO that represents songwriters and publishers. Specifically, i spoke to two very successful songwriters, Erika Nuri and D.Q, her writing partner. They work from morning to night, day in and day out writing songs for PussyCat dolls, Brandy and so on. Currently they wrote a hit with A.R. Rahman and the Pussycat Dolls which I am sure as soon as it hit the airwaves was being pirated. As lucky as Erika and D.Q are that they are songwriters and are getting paid for their exhaustive hours in the studio, they really have no real recourse against global giants like Baidu.com.
I don't really know what the answer to music piracy would be, I can't say i agree with France's three-strike deal, or Google's "watermark" or the several other ideas that seem to be floating through the digital highway. I just know that until there is some regulation, the world may never see the potential of so many songwriters, singers or artists that just can't afford to make music.