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French Version

Music on the 'net' continues

If you thought that downloading music through the Internet ended with the closure of Napster, think again. As soon as Napster halted its service, as ordered by a US court, several similar Peer-to-Peer (P2P) services emerged such as iMesh, KaZa and others. These files sharing 'networks' learned the game from Napster and, for now, are operating without legal challenges.

It seems Napster, being the first, bore the brunt of the record industry and copyright infringement lawyers in a battle that took a couple of years and resulted, essentially, in no increased protection for music online.

In fact, a number of websites that offer direct downloading have grown in popularity. One of them is even called www.afternapster.com. Another is www.audiogalaxy.com.

Studies will show that very high percentages of Internet users still engage in the practice of downloading and exchanging digital music files, some legal, but mostly illegal.

In fact, digital convergence and the introduction of cheap CD writable drives, have seen a leap in 'illegal burning', by which you download a whole album of an artist of the Internet and then burn a CD copy.

So, the technology seems to be conspiring against any possible legal solutions. Authorities cannot, and will not, crack down on every single user at home! What's more, it's going to take a concentrated effort to stop all the online services now available.

The bad news for music publishers is that there's more piracy-promoting technology to come. Digital radio will present another serious challenge to music labels, as the quality of radio will rival original CD recordings.

For decades, people have taped their favorite songs from radio, but that hasn't worried music companies who knew that listeners would buy the original tape or CD of a single, or album, because of the low quality, and interference, found in radio broadcasts.

Digital radio will change that. Listeners will receive digital radio on their PCs and, aided with a CD writable drive, should be able to create audio CDs form these broadcasts.

In the Arabic music industry, music companies are still fighting pirated tapes and it will be a while before they concentrate on digital music, which is picking up all over the Arab world as the Internet's penetration rises.

One of the interesting trends created by Arabic music sites is 'listening sites' where you don't necessarily save your music to the hard disk, but just listen to the top hits while you're online. The songs are accessible in faster, lower quality MPEG formats that are good for easy listening, but not necessarily for downloads, copying and distribution. But, that will change with time creating the same kind of illegal situation that American and European music companies now face. When Arab countries get higher bandwidth, and the time required to download a 5 megabyte songs is reduced from the current half an hour to 45 minutes, everyone will be downloading and distributing, among friends at first, then maybe for illegal commercial purposes.

Higher speed lines and ADSL technologies are starting to evolve in all major Arab Internet markets, so you can also expect Arabic movies to soon become available over the Internet.

If you're an iMesh user, try searching for an Arabic song to download. You'll get quite a few 'download peers' who are offering these songs. Transfer rates are low, mainly for the reason just stated, but they're picking up every month.

Simply, the music industry has to learn to live with this new technological environment.Music companies could turn it to there advantage, using the Internet to 'showcase' parts of a new album by Amr Diab, for example, and counting on the fact that buyers will go to a music store and pick up the original tape or CD if they like what they hear. Attractive packaging of the tapes and CDs, complete with lyrics and a poster of the artists would make it much more interesting to spend an amount as low as $7 to get this 'entertainment package'. Creativity is the answer, not courts.

Zeid Nasser
The Star

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