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MP3 - Ally or enemy?
"Cybeat: Digital Distribution and the Music Revolution"
Queensland Parliament House, 7 July 1999

MP3 - Ally or enemy?

This seemed to be the underlying question discussed during "Cybeat: Digital Distribution and the Music Revolution", a seminar organised in Australia to examine current issues surrounding MP3 on 7 July.

MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3) is a file format popularly used for delivering music on the WWW. It operates by "compressing'' a CD-quality song to a size that can be downloaded in a matter of minutes.

These audio files can be recognised by its .mp3 extension. As a guide 1 MB is equal to one minute of music or several minutes of spoken words. The fact that MP3 has no built-in copyright protection is a cause for major concern.

Key players in the music distribution market have been jolted with the introduction of MP3. On the one hand, it has allowed artists and bands to easily distribute their music over the WWW, an excellent platform for up and coming musicians.

On the other, it has alarmed major record companies who fear it could encourage unprecedented piracy and cut into their profits. As this is an emerging technology, there are few laws governing this form of intellectual property.

Respected members from a cross section of the industry such as Phil Tripp (Immedia), Victoria Doidge (Chaos Music), Jason Horton (Hitsquad), Prof William Fisher (Harvard Law School), Prof Brian Fitzgerald (Southern Cross University's Head of Law) and Prof Bill Caelli (QUT's Head of Data Communications) spoke at the seminar.

Prof Fitzgerald summed up the law fraternity's concerns when he said it is essential to develop an infrastructure to overcome copyright issues in the relatively new territory of music on the Internet.

He cited the recent US case; Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) vs Diamond Multimedia Systems Inc. as a benchmark. RIAA sued the Diamond Rio walkman manufacturer for facilitating copyright infringement.

Prof Fitzgerald quoted John Perry Barlow's (Co-Founder, The Electronic Frontier Foundation), legendary article "Selling wine without Bottles: The Economy of Mind" who boldly challenges current copyright law.

Barlow said: "In the absence of the old containers, almost everything we think we know about intellectual property is wrong. We are going to have to unlearn it."

Unfortunately Barlow who was listed on the panel was unable to attend due to personal reasons.

Phil Tripp (Immedia), presented a realistic view from the music industry perspective. An obvious crowd pleaser, he spoke honestly when he said: "business comes first and laws later." He likened himself to a miner who dug for raw diamonds in the form of artists and it was his task to promote them.

He made some brilliant analogies, and compared MP3 to free tap water and the music-marketing package to bottled water. He encouraged young musicians in the audience to promote themselves on the Internet and use technology to their advantage.

He presented the harsh flipside of the technology shift with some astonishing figures. He said that half the people in the world today would never place or receive a call. He quoted a Market Tracking International report saying the sales of recorded music over the Internet increased five-fold in 1998 to US$143 million worldwide, up from US$29 million in 1997.

Jason Horton (Hitsquads) and Victoria Doidge (Chaos Music) related their success stories of marketing music over the Internet. Both said that it was a relatively new area and their organisations were sampling various business strategies. They strongly agreed it was important to develop a strong relationship with their online consumers.

Both said consumers these days, are proactive and tend to do more to promote their favourite artistes and contribute directly to the product. They suggested it would be a good idea to join forces and turn these fans into allies.

A key strategy to enhance consumer loyalty would be to offer them exclusivities like concert tickets or priority access to merchandise as a reward.

Security of online transactions was another pressing matter. It is not the safest possible, and till this gap is filled, they have to find alternative methods to convince sceptical consumers to purchase music online.

Judging from the music industry's enthusiasm during the seminar, it will only be a matter of time where together, industry representatives will develop a strategy to counter these battling copyright issues.

And that is indeed encouraging news for both artistes and business professionals.

Related Links:

MP3 links courtesy of Baden Appleyard, MP3 technical demonstrator at Cybeat '99.,5,37317,00.html,4586,2258301,00.html


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