Magazine article Management Today

Sound of Things to Come

Magazine article Management Today

Sound of Things to Come

Article excerpt

Napster and gnutella are said to be ringing the death-knell of the record industry, but thinks the last rites may be some way off

The digital encoding of music has turned out to be a mixed blessing for what is often still referred to, anachronistically, as the global record industry. Having profited enormously from the advent of the compact disc in the early 1980s, large companies and small labels alike have struggled recently to come to terms with newer digital formats that do not need to be lasered onto shiny bits of plastic before they can be heard.

The most problematic of the new arrivals, from the industry's point of view, has been a compression technology that was originally designed in 1987 to shrink bulky video files for use with multimedia. By the law of unintended consequences, MP3 (as it is now known) has been far more widely adopted over the past four years as a container for music and one that lend's itself to easy and swift transmission over the internet.

How easy? Put a compact disc in the ROM drive of your PC. Convert it, using the appropriate legally available software, into an MP3 file and you can then e-mail it as an attachment anywhere in the world, to as many people as you like. They can download and play it themselves on a domestic hi-fi - using one of many MP3 players on the market for around [pound]150 - and they can also forward it to other webbed-up chums. Because it's digitised, there will be no degradation in sound quality as your file travels further into cyberspace. And at no point in its voyage will any money have changed hands.

The implications of this sort of transaction for any business that deals in copyrighted material are clearly worrying. The fact that novel technologies appeal more intensely to younger people - the same group who listen obsessively to pop and rock music - has thrust the music industry first into the eye of this coming storm. And though you would never guess it from John Alderman's sloppily biased account, the industry is weathering it reasonably well.

The 'file-sharing' service known as Napster, which facilitates and organises the distribution and exchange of MP3 copies of CDs over the internet, has been repeatedly found by the American courts to be in breach of copyright law. Other similar services are now being legally challenged - as they have to be if the principle of copyright is to be upheld. …

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