CD Pirates Who Saved the Single; Even Rock Stars Now Believe Downloading Singles from the Internet Has Saved the Pop Industry. So Why Do the Music Moguls Still Fear Technology?

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WHAT a strange place the British music industry is. Yesterday, one of its leading stars, Fran Healy from Travis, infuriated the record industry that pays him so handsomely by insisting that online music piracy is a good thing. "It's a brilliant way for kids to taste an album,'' he said, rather than forcing them to pay [pounds sterling]14 for a CD only to find out they hate it.

This, in the same week in which it was announced that singles downloaded from the internet, for as little as 60p, are to count towards a record's position in the Top 100, in order to boost flagging sales. In 1997, 87 million singles were sold, twice the amount the industry predicts for this year, while downloaded singles number more than 500,000 every month, and rising.

Having established a better quality of download than those wicked, illegal internet file-sharers, the major record labels are, supposedly, back in a position to make money, with fewer packaging overheads, and we music lovers are using new technology to tailor our collections to our personal tastes.

Suddenly, merging downloads with high-street sales has got everyone excited about buying pop all over again.

So all's well that ends well, in the "great internet rip-off" debate. Except that some industry fat cats can't let it lie. They seem determined to criminalise the kids.

Gary Farrow, vice-president of communications, Sony Music UK, rages that those who encourage others to download music and burn CDs are equivalent to those who would "advocate telling kids to grow pot, hotwire a Mercedes or burgle a house".

Farrow and fellow whingeing suit Peter Jamieson, chairman of The British Phonographic Institute, insist that: "Pirating needs to be stopped before it kills the music industry." And here was I thinking that the likes of OD2 and Apple iTunes music store were stopping pirating - by giving people what they want, at a price they can afford. But then, this is the history of pop: the young innovate while the old try to stop them and regain control.

But perhaps a little specific history is worth mentioning here. In the Seventies, the Sonys of this world gave us radiocassetterecorders that enabled us to tape music straight off the radio, and later, copy music from tape-to-tape. Early Eighties albums dispensed with those beautifully designed inner record sleeves with lots of information and artwork and replaced them with blank sleeves that screamed "Home Taping Is Killing Music! …


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