Volume 92, Issue 89

Wednesday, March 18, 1999


The Concrete Beat

Exploring the avant-garde: Brakhage documents experimentalist

Seeking security and music on the internet

Vani thrives off intimate atmosphere

Casing the joint for a little funked up house

Celebrity sightings

Groovin' around with fashion

New Wahlberg film too weak to corrupt

Seeking security and music on the internet

By Aaron Wherry
Gazette Staff

With advances in technology, the underground world of bootlegged music is moving to the internet, which poses a major threat to the pocketbooks of record companies.

The renewed dispute centres around a relatively new form of digital music known as Mpeg 1 Audio Layer 3 files. MP3s allow computer users to shrink music files and play them on their home computers. Steve Ehrlick, vice-president of legal and business affairs for EMI music, says the problem for record labels stems from how these files are acquired. Programs allow anyone to copy songs from a CD onto their computers. These files can then be distributed across the internet.

"There's nothing wrong with MP3s, it's how they're used," Ehrlick explains. "What we frown upon is infringement of copyright. It's kind of like saying a gun is okay, it's just how it's used."

For the average internet user, MP3s are a dream come true. Tens of thousands of copied songs are available for free on the net.

In response, many of the major record labels have formed programs such as the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) and "The Madison Project." Under these systems, record labels such as Warner, Sony, EMI, Universal and BMG would make their catalogues of songs available to download from the net for a small fee. These files would be encrypted with passwords preventing them from being copied.

Brian Robertson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, a body which represents all of the major Canadian record labels, says he hopes this will start to control the MP3 industry, adding MP3s cost labels in excess of $1 billion U.S. last year.

"At the present time you have thousands of recordings posted on the net with no security system in place to control it, so we obviously need something to be addressed," Robertson states.

The question now becomes will these new security devices work?

"We hope so," Robertson says. "You always have the view that as soon as a security system is put in place, you'll have someone trying to circumvent it."

The Criminal Code of Canada interprets copyright infringement to have occurred whenever anyone copies, performs or distributes material when they do not hold legal rights to do so. Sgt. Jack Bellerose of the RCMP says copyright infringement is covered by their enforcement unit and all complaints are investigated and charged appropriately.

However, Statistics Canada keeps no exact numbers on copyright infringement on the internet.

Other parties with vested interest in the MP3 debate, such as Steve Grady, vice president of marketing for Goodnoise.com, are not nearly so positive.

"MP3 is out there and new users are coming out everyday. We've seen deals like SDMI come along before and none of them have had much success," Grady says. "It's not to say some form of program might not work in the future, but encryption as it stands now doesn't work."

Goodnoise.com is an internet site linked with smaller record labels such as Rykodisc and Spinart, who provide single songs at a cost, without any form of encryption. Grady says from his point of view, most MP3s on the net are taken from CDs which contain no encryption and plans like SDMI are not attacking the problem directly. Goodnoise.com has followed the path of internet giant MP3.com, one of the driving forces in the MP3 industry.

Michael Robertson, chief executive officer of MP3.com, says they provide users with access to over 300 labels and artists. MP3.com also provides software and instruction for anyone wanting to know how to download, copy or make MP3s. Robertson says he questions labels' intentions for going forward with programs such as SDMI.

"If they're doing it to protect their distribution then it's doomed to failure. If they're doing it to create an open standard, that [all companies] can be involved with, it may work," Robertson says. "The real risk is [the label's] motivations aren't altruistic. I think you're seeing that with the 'Madison Project,' where only the labels are allowed to play along."

Patrick Curreh, manager of the HMV music store at Galleria Mall, says he has not noticed any dramatic drop in sales in recent months. "There's always going to be people who will buy CDs."

Those who will benefit the most from MP3s are the artists, says Dallas Starr of the Calgary based band Geogel, who offer their songs through MP3.com. Since signing on in Nov. '98, 1,000 people have downloaded their material. This, he says, helped Geogel receive a developmental deal with Universal Music.

"I fully support MP3.com and what they're doing. For everyone you lose in royalties, you get someone who's hearing your music."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999