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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 July 2006, 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK
Should music downloads be free?
By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

A recordable CD held in front of a computer
The industry group says music could be free on the internet
A group representing the UK's independent music labels says it wants to change the way we pay for music online.

They say music could, in effect, be free to customers - with payment collected as part of their internet subscription.

The system would work like a pay TV channel, where all of the programmes and movies are free once a monthly fee has been paid.

The idea came from a talking shop arranged by the Association of Independent Music (Aim), which represents the UK's independent record labels.

It involved other music industry bodies, such as the Musician's Union and the Performing Rights Society (PRS), which collects royalties for songwriters and performers.

As an industry we've learnt our lessons
Dave Rowntree

They say that, in the future, the industry would make money from file-sharing music by charging Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for distribution.

However, customers would still have to pay for a permanent copy of a piece of music on CD, or as a download bought from digital retailers.

Lessons learned

Rock group Blur
Blur's last album, Think Tank, was leaked on the internet
At a press conference outlining their ideas, the panel of music industry experts also said that record companies were wrong to sue people who illegally download music.

"Prohibition always ends in disaster," said Dave Rowntree, drummer for the rock band Blur. "As an industry we've learnt our lessons."

"We all agree the consumer is the wrong target to be focusing our attention on," said Alison Wenham, chief executive of Aim.

"But under current copyright law, they are the only target."

Consumers should be able to have music "where they want it, when they want it, in the form that they want it", she continued.

Wenham says she envisions a two-tier system for music fans.

Customers would have access to any music track they wanted, delivered in real-time over the internet, as part of their broadband connection.

However, they would have to make separate payments for "premium content", such as exclusive performances, or to keep permanent copies of songs offline.

Law change

There are large corporations out there that are benefiting greatly from the use of copyrighted material
Horace Trubridge
Musicians Union
However, the music industry collective says copyright laws will need to change in order for this to happen.

Most importantly, they want Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to pay for music distributed over their services.

"There are large corporations out there that are benefiting greatly from the use of copyrighted material," said Horace Trubridge, assistant general secretary of the Musicians Union.

"We feel they should be licensed for that."

"Radio is probably the closest example I can give you," said Ms Wenham.

"It is delivered to the consumer apparently free, but behind the scenes there is a very complex licensing arrangement which remunerates the people who made the music."

However, the music industry group has yet to convince ISPs that the system has merit.

Discussions of the idea have been "a bit one-sided", admitted Andy Heath of the British Music Rights Board.

ISPs had been contacted, he added, but "they don't reply much".

Illegal downloads

The assertion that internet providers should be held responsible for illegal downloading by their users will not help to build bridges.

The music industry group says it wants to make intermediaries - including ISPs - "the target of copyright enforcement action".

The Internet Service Providers Association (Ispa) issued a robust response to the suggestion.

"ISPs bear no liability for illegal file sharing as the content is not hosted on their servers," it said.

"Although such files may be transmitted across an ISP's network, ISPs are 'mere conduits' of information, as per the E-Commerce Regulations 2002."

Such disagreements are currently being thrashed out as part of an independent review of the UK's copyright laws commissioned by the government.

Aim's paper will be finalised in September and sent to the review, led by former Financial Times editor Andrew Gower, which is looking at a wide range of intellectual property issues.

Indie labels want copyright shift
12 Jul 06 |  Entertainment
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12 Jul 06 |  Business
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11 Jul 06 |  Business
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06 Jun 06 |  Entertainment
File-sharing 'not cut by courts'
20 Jan 06 |  Entertainment

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