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Sweden sets pace as countries race to tackle music piracy

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Sweden sets pace as countries race to tackle music piracy
Lily Allen performing in Gothenburg last summer
17:53 CET+01:00
Countries all over the world are following the lead of Sweden, France and South Korea as the battle against illegal music downloads intensifies.

Sweden has taken the most stringent stance, adopting tough legislation and taking legal action against illegal downloading site The Pirate Bay.

But the country has also benefitted from the huge success of its free ad-supported music streaming service, Spotify, which helped sales of digital music soar by 98 percent and CD sales by 1.9 percent.

Figures released earlier this month by the Swedish Recording Industry Association showed music sales for 2009 up 10.2 percent on the previous year, making Sweden one of few countries in the world with sales results in the black. In all, digital sales accounted for 16.3 percent of the total.

"It remains to be seen whether this year's positive development really will break the trend," said association spokesperson Lisa Cronstedt in a statement, as the industry seeks to rebound from a lengthy period of decline.

Worldwide music sales have crashed some 30 percent since 2004 as piracy has risen, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said last week.

"Many countries are mulling a gradual response but are waiting to see what results are achieved in countries that have taken steps," said industry consultant Aymeric Pichevin at a conference on piracy held at the annual MIDEM music industry trade fair in Cannes, which closes on Wednesday.

France has adopted a gradual response -- bombarding people who are illegally downloading from the Internet with threats, and taking them to court only if they ignore the warnings. That is the spirit of its so-called Hadopi law, adopted end 2009 and to be enforced this year.

South Korea is the only country in the world to have launched this type of action, in July 2009. IFPI figures indicate the move had an immediate impact on digital sales, which jumped 53 percent in the first nine months of 2009.

The French music market too was bolstered in the second half of last year by the news that a law would be passed to help protect the struggling from piracy.

Its two stage programme -- warn first, take action later -- has impacted as far away as New Zealand, which is now looking at similar measures.

Britain is considering how to strengthen measures to combat music piracy but believes in a more softly-softly approach.

"The idea is to send threats to Internet users and then wait to see what effect this first phase has before considering whether sanctions need to be taken," said Pichevin.

At MIDEM, which is the music industry's biggest annual get-together, the topic of piracy sparked heated debated.

The "Featured Artists Coalition" (FAC), which includes stars such as Pink Floyd, Blur and Radiohead, was sceptical that strong-arm tactics can be effective, a stand that irritated singer Lily Allen.

"I believe we will have a law, but in a run-up to a general election, there is little window of opportunity," said Geoff Taylor, the head of BPI, which represents the British music industry.

In Spain, where 31 percent of Internet users regularly illegally download music, according to a survey carried out for MIDEM, the government appears to be reluctant to attack consumers directly.

The government there has drawn up a draft law enabling the closure of sites that allow illegal downloads, but this has come under attack by opposition parties.

In Japan and the United States, the music industry has opted to negotiate agreements directly with Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

That approach failed in Spain and Britain "where ISPs were afraid of losing customers," Taylor said.

Canada's association of composers and songwriters on the other hand wants to negotiate a license with ISPs for Internet users who want to download.

"There's no harm in sharing music, that's always been the case. The only problem is that we're not paid and we need to find a way of monetizing the sharing," said the head of the association, Eddie Schwartz.

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