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Mainstream music industry's grumblings clearly miss the point

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The US' largest independent record label, Platinum Entertainment, appeared to distance itself from the music industry majors yesterday, by backing the MPEG-based MP3 digital music format. But though the rest of the music business continues to regard MP3 with dread -- hence the massive legal campaign being waged by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) against Diamond Multimedia over the latter's MP3-based Rio player -- Platinum's move may be more canny than it sounds. The big problem the industry has with MP3 is the ease with which files can be copied and distributed. That makes it ideal for mass piracy, and this is exactly what has happened. There are now thousands of illegal copies of copyright music ready for downloading from the Internet. "While other labels may still regard MP3 as a controversial format," said Platinum's president and CEO, Steve Devick, "we see it as a powerful promotional tool." The key word here is 'promotional'. Platinum's deal with MP3.com, a member of the newly announced MP3 Consortium (see Diamond forms MP3 lobby body), will see the Web site distribute tracks free of charge. The label's goal is to generate interest for its recordings among the huge MP3 userbase how will then go off and buy albums. It's essentially the Internet equivalent of Radio One -- people hear singles for free and then spend £16 on the album. The point is, Platinum hasn't committed itself to release all its music on MP3, only promo material. In essence it's bridging the gap between 'legitimate' online music formats, like Liquid Audio, Dolby's AC3 and RealNetworks' offering, and MP3 -- the software equivalent of Diamond's recent decision to embrace Liquid Audio for Rio (see Diamond to add Liquid Audio to Rio). While MP3 isn't going to go away, any more than home taping is, there's little that bodies like the RIAA can really do about the problem -- penalising Diamond and complaining about Platinum certainly isn't going to help. Platinum's approach may be the only realistic way music sales on the Net can progress. ® Click for more stories Click for story index

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