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David Miller: Can’t Stop The Music

David Miller Online
You Can’t Stop The Flow Of Free Music

The decision made by New Zealand musicians and members of the recording industry to crack down on compact disc piracy is like trying to bolt the door after the horse has bolted. The music industry has launched a campaign entitled “Burn and Get Burnt” in which it has announced that illegal CD duplication will be wiped out. Unfortunately for the industry carrying out this threat will prove much more difficult than declaring it simply because one only has to log onto the Internet to find a site from which MP3s can be downloaded and so many computers these days are sold with CD burners.

The copying of music is reported to cost the industry up to $95 million a year with concerns being expressed over the impact this has on young talent starting out on their careers. The feeling is that if people are prepared to buy or produce copied material then there is little incentive for them to purchase from retail outlets and pay full price.

The practice of burning CD’s is widespread and this is not limited to music. Software can also be transferred to a CD ROM and once again it provides a cost effective alternative to paying full retail prices. Often when installing software onto a computer the user is asked to register the product using a code which is unique to that copy or disk. This problem is easily overcome if the user does not install the software onto their hard drive and merely runs the programme from disk.

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MP3s have become the most popular and well-established form of download music on the Internet and have been so since the mid 1990’s. Now it is possibly to buy MP3 players in appliance shops, which are similar to the handheld Walkman only the play MP3 disks rather than cassette tapes of CDs. MP3s are one of a number of forms in which music can be downloaded however they are the most common. An MP3 is simply a WAV or sound file that has been encoded or compressed down to a much smaller size and a particular rate known as bitrate. The speed with which this is done determines how clear the quality is.

An associated problem is that once the music has been downloaded if someone has the correct computer hardware then it can become a simple task to make ones own audio CD, with the quality as good as that on one purchased over the counter at a record store. One other point here is that the technology is now available allowing a computer user to transfer MP3’s from one hard drive to another. Although the well known website Napster has been forced to halt trading in free music others have not. If one does a search for MP3 using a search engine such as then those sites can easily be found.

Once a collection of music has been downloaded or transferred to a hard drive then one can burn the CD using a burner and the correct software. This software has developed to the point that a person can make exact copies and not lose any of the quality and reproduce as many copies as one likes. One does not have to even buy the CD as they can be hired from libraries at minimal cost.

The campaign against music piracy appears to be based on the public’s goodwill and the threat of legal action for anyone caught producing or buying illegal music. The Burn and Get Burnt campaign has support from all of New Zealand’s record companies and some of the country's most recognisable musicians including Dave Dobbyn and Neil Finn, Che Fu, Stellar* and Fur Patrol have added their voices to the cause. There is a media campaign planned and anti- piracy messages will begin appearing on CD covers, however will this be effective?

By launching this campaign, the music industry has demonstrated that it is prepared to do something about piracy even though it has become a huge problem. Nevertheless technology is its greatest adversary. Not only are home computers that powerful that they can accommodate the software but so many people have access to the Internet and are prepared to devote an hour or two of their time in search of free music rather than buy it from a store. It is not only the cost saving involved but also the time element as well. If someone is prepared to look for free music and create their own CD’s then they do not have to leave their own home.

The other issue that I question is the policing of this campaign. How will those who are behind it enforce the anti-piracy measures they have called for and who will they target. Will it be those who produce the CD’s for their own use or for sale or will it include the people who purchase them? After all it is the flow of money that encourages the flow of copied material.

No one is condoning the piracy of other people’s work. However, due to the increase in technology and the information available on the Internet, preventing the spread and production of free music in New Zealand will prove an extremely difficult task. It does not matter how many Napster’s are closed down or how many key codes are attached to software, there will always be ways to by-pass them and unless there is a massive shift in attitudes, people will always seek the bargains and free music.

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