Musical tide turns to legal downloads

The tide is turning for music pirates in Australia, with illegal downloads being replaced by a strong and growing legal download industry. One of the keys to this sea change is the launch this week of the long-awaited Australian version of the Apple iTunes Music Store.

The online store launched on Tuesday, with over a million music tracks for $1.69 each, as well as 1000 music videos at $3.39 each and albums at $16.99. The store has deals with most major labels except Sony BMG, but that should not be far off.

Sony BMG's general manager of business strategy, Emmanuel Candi, said he hoped to finalise negotiations with Apple "in the near future". "We have been telling Apple to come here for two years," he said. "Negotiations didn't start until a few months ago, but discussions are going well and we look forward to their presence in the marketplace."

Competing music download business, Destra, reduced prices for its tracks by 10 cents to 89 cents each on Wednesday. Strategy development manager Simon Crean denied that the move was a direct response to the launch of the local iTunes Music Store and said it was a move to "stay ahead of the competition."

"In saying that, we welcome them," he said. "History shows so far that wherever they have entered the market all the other customers of other companies have grown as well.

"I think it shows there is a level of maturity in the market here and we are turning the corner from the old days of music piracy, where there was just no capacity to pay for it."

BigPond music spokesperson Craig Middleton agrees.

"We believe the arrival of the iTunes Music Store is great for the entire market," he said. "We think it will become the water cooler conversation of the month and everyone will be talking about it and doing legal downloads." He said customers without iPods would still turn to BigPond Music.

Both Crean and Middleton said their respective digital music businesses were thriving. Middleton said track downloads trebled from June 2004 to June 2005 and album downloads increased five times during the same period. Crean said Destra's mp3.com.au site was doing particularly well, with 1.3 million download streams a month.

Tania Zordan, a lawyer with Kemp Strang, which specialises in copyright law, said that overall, the Apple iTunes Music Store was a good thing for the record industry in Australia as well as for the consumer.

She said there were copyright laws in Australia that did not exist in the US and they give better protection for the copyright owners here.

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