Music labels' Net plays losing out to grey market

Music labels' Net plays losing out to grey market Napster is grounded, digital music downloads are going "legit," and yet college students and corporate
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Music labels' Net plays losing out to grey market Napster isgrounded, digital music downloads are going "legit," and yet collegestudents and corporate desk drones continue to get busted swappingsongs on the Internet's grey market. This is bad news for the majormusic labels, which launched subscription download services MusicNetand Pressplay in December in an effort to combat the rise of musicpiracy on the Internet, which the labels claim is eating into CD sales.These subscription services have had a lacklustre debut as music fansand product reviewers contend they are an inferior alternative to theillegal sites, which have a greater variety of music, more features,and of course, are free. "The music industry is vulnerable. It's stillso easy to download this stuff," said Jon Fowler, director of marketingat NetPD, a London-based firm that gained notoriety last year forhelping rock band Metallica identify thousands of Napster users whowere downloading the band's songs from the file-swapping service, inviolation of copyright laws. Fowler said the introduction of MusicNetand Pressplay has had no noticeable impact on the rate of online musicpiracy. The figures from Download.com support his observation. Musicfans are downloading rogue software that allows users to swap musicfiles through online services KaZaA, Morpheus Music City andAudiogalaxy, to name a few, at a clip of more than three million perweek. In contrast, Real Network's RealOne media player -- the softwareassociated with MusicNet --was downloaded 7,506 times during the pastweek, according to Download.com. MusicNet, the digital service backedby Warner Music Group, a unit of AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann's BMG andEMI Inc., launched on Dec 4. Pressplay, a joint venture between SonyCorp. and Vivendi Universal, launched also launched in December."There's no demand for it," Fowler said of the services. "The volume offile-sharing is much greater now that when Napster was alone."Reviewers have criticized Pressplay and MusicNet for offering fewersongs and fewer features than the illegal services. Furthermore, theservices won't be available to consumers outside the U.S. for months.Music fans have been blunt on Internet message boards too. ForMusicNet, the most common complaint on the message boards is thatwould-be customers cannot view the music library until after they'vepaid the $9.95 monthly subscription. And, MusicNet does not permit thedownload of tracks to a portable MP3 player or to be burned on a CD, afeature that rival Pressplay includes. "Pay 10 to 20 bucks for musicthat you CANNOT listen to in your portable MP3 player or burn to CD andhave the music vaporize once you terminate your subscription," readsone UseNet message about MusicNet. "Is the music consumer thatstupid?!" MusicNet could not be immediately reached for comment.Netizens also have taken Pressplay to task. A parody site,www.press-play.net, takes a jab at Pressplay's decision to limit thenumber of songs that can be burned onto a CD and thus played on aportable music player. The site carries the fictitious disclaimer: "Youmay not use this service unless your computer weighs over 180 lbs andis classified as a tethered, non-portable device." A spokeswoman forPressplay in New York said future versions of Pressplay may be moreflexible with portable downloads. "It's a new consumer proposition.It's not going to make everybody happy out of the gate," she said.MusicNet and Pressplay officials are optimistic there is a market fortheir services, particularly as their songs libraries expand andfeatures improve. They also say some music fans are wary of downloadingfiles from unauthorized file-swapping sources as they may containcomputer viruses, a common concern discussed in Internet discussiongroups. But breaking the "all-you-can-eat-for-free" habit firstpopularized by Napster, and now satisfied by next generationfile-swapping sites, will be difficult to overcome, experts say. "Idon't think anyone can sell music downloads over the Internet until thecommercial services are better or the free services are gone," saidBruce Ward, co-founder of NetPD. NetPD is keenly aware of online piracyactivities. It scours the Internet and tracks users who swapcopyrighted material belonging to its clients, which include theRecording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Sony Music, andartists such as George Michael and Paul Simon. The firm has also gotwork from Hollywood studios and computer game publishers recently, thecompany said. In a sweep last month, a NetPD report revealed that 2.5million copyrighted and generic files traded hands in a six-minuteperiod, a typical tally. Among the hundreds of songs swapped,hip-hop/R&B artist Alicia Keys chart topping hit "Fallin" wastraded the most -- 1,883 times. Over the past two years, NetPD hasnotified hundreds of commercial Internet service providers and privatenetworks operated by universities and corporations that their userswere guilty of copyright offences. "I don't know anybody who hasn'tdownloaded copyrighted material off the Internet, excluding my parentsand grandparents maybe," said Ward. —REUTERS