The biggest change that a switch to digital media has meant is the ability for people to carry whole music libraries around, and copy material between devices in a few minutes rather than waiting on hour for a C60 tape to copy on a double deck tape recorder.
The Times has published some interesting data on the extent of music copying among young people. Most knee jerk responses to date have centered on peer to peer networks, but copying a friends CD, sharing tracks via e-mail or simply copying it off their computer are very common. For the age range 18 to 24, some 96% admitted to some form of illegal copying, dropping to 89% for 14 to 17 year old, roughly two thirds copy CDs from friends.
While the survey reveals an average of 1,770 songs on MP3 players, with some 48% of these breaking the copyright laws. Interestingly the 14 to 17 age group had some 61% tracks that they did not have the rights to use. A big question that is left unanswered is whether people listen to the illegal music as much as stuff they've bought, a great deal of the tracks may be where someone has purchased the hit tracks from a music download service and then copied the rest of an album from a friends CD collection.
"I was one of those people who went around the back of the bike shed with songs I had taped off the radio the night before. But this totally dwarfs that, and anything we expected...
The positive message is that 80 per cent of downloaders said they would pay for a legal subscription-based service, and they told us they would be willing to pay more than a few pounds a month."Fergal Sharkey, chief executive of British Music Rights
It is interesting to see that some 80% of people suggest that they would pay for a legal subscription based service. The big problem with these services is that you are locking yourself into a product, meaning that if you miss a monthly subscription payment all the music you have downloaded may expire. A hybrid service, whereby a subscription of for example £8.99 gives you access to a wide range of music for download, and ten tracks a month that can be downloaded as permanent files so that even if you cease the subscription you can keep the favourites in your music collection may be one way that music download services could evolve.
The music and film/video industry would love to be able to put a stop to the copying that goes on, but for the music industry in particular its target audience of teenagers and young people may not have the disposable income to actually go out and buy more content. So current moves like the BPI/Virgin Media alliance may reduce the amount of copying that goes on, but produce little extra income to the music industry.