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August 19, 2012

Copyrighted Music Gains Momentum in the Cloud

The music industry has for years lacked a sustainable business model and been at a loss to find new revenue streams as pirated material almost cut it off at the knees. Recently though, Amazon has delivered a scan-and-match service similar to Apple’s iTunes after announcing new licensing deals with Sony, EMI, Universal and Warner to offer copyrighted music to the public on its Cloud Player.

The recording industry has been hemorrhaging money from declining CD sales and in an attempt to recover from this it has taken to filing lawsuits against file-sharing sites. But, while piracy ended the labels’ exclusive role as the gatekeepers of music, the game changed and technology drove artists away from the recording industry by creating music from home-based studios using sophisticated software such as Logic Pro 9 and distributing it via social media.

Sailing the Seven Seas

The record labels were slow to adapt to the way music distribution began to change in the ’90s. Napster, one of the first independent, peer-to-peer file sharing services that operated from 1999 to 2001 heralded those changes. The Napster model of sharing, however, led to copyright violations and in 2000 the heavy metal band Metallica filed a lawsuit against Napster.

Also in 2000, A&M Records and several other recording companies, via the RIAA, sued Napster for “vicarious copyright infringements” under the new Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Major record labels also issued lawsuits and Napster was shut down by the Court of Appeals and settled its differences with Metallica. In its second incarnation, Napster became a legitimate online music store in December 2011 when it merged with Rhapsody.

But it has always been the long-suffering artists that have traditionally had the worst deal, leading Elton John, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Robert Plant, Brian May, Simon Cowell and Tinie Tempah to take it upon themselves to write a letter to British prime minister David Cameron urging him to take action against Google for “aiding music piracy and promoting links to illegal music downloads.”

Pete Townshend also made headlines when he called iTunes a “digital vampire,” asking Apple to do more to support musicians.Google then responded in kind, not to Towshend personally of course, but by laying out its policy that aims to capsize sites that infringe copyright by downranking them in the search listings.

Some take the view that Google’s latest move towards punishing pirated music sites is a result of its mollification of the major music labels so that Google Play can compete more effectively with Cloud Player and iTunes.

Billowing Up the Cloud

By 2010, Johnny Cash’s “Guess Things Happen That Way” was the 10 billionth song sold through the iTunes Music Store, and the trend for cloud-based digital music lockers is still gaining momentum, where sites run by Amazon, Apple and Google are boosting revenues for the labels through licensing models that have created a far more level playing field.

But while piracy sites are taking a bashing in Google search, hypocrisy still rules the waves, and artists are still getting short shrift from the labels. This is best illustrated in the Pirate Bay lawsuit where the defendants were ordered to pay $675,000 to EMI, Sony and Universal, but not one of these companies shared it with the artists and instead used it to fund yet more lawsuits.

Massive Attack’s 3D told the BBC at the Coachella festival what devastating effects illegal downloads were having on his income, while Noel Gallagher told a journalist that the consumer always wants free music downloads and it had cost him a quarter of a million pounds to make an album and that he “wanted his money back”. He continued, obnoxiously as ever: “That’s why we’re rock stars.” How he arrived at such a vast sum is anyone’s guess but it highlights the mood of both the public and the artists when it comes to piracy.

A Sailor’s Song for Commercial Raiders

Whatever anti-piracy measures are implemented, from blocking Pirate Bay to Google’s efforts to downgrade websites hosting pirated music in search engine rankings, these measures are unlikely to affect music fans downloading music illegally.

For the music industry, while these services are never going to stamp out online music piracy, the big corporations are delivering copyrighted music for download which is having a lasting effect on boosting the industry’s digital bottom line, primarily because of its availability on mobile and tablets. That is good news for artists like Elton John and Noel Gallagher because they can no longer claim they remain a starving breed.

John Sylvester is an independent writer for VoIP4Cloud, a company that provides advanced, feature-rich, cloud-based VoIP technologies for progressive businesses.