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No download of No.1 hit

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Comment Despite all the huff and puff emanating from the Australian music business about illegal file-sharing, it's comes as a bit of surprise to learn that you can't legally downloaded a number one single, even if you're prepared to shell out hard-earned cash for the privilege.

Jesse McCartney is a harmless enough young pop star and actor who stars in "Summerland" and has a chart-topping hit - "Beautiful Soul". Jesse epitomises all of the attributes that the recording industry likes to push – young, wholesome, American - spot on for the teen hearthrob market.

As has been widely reported, the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) and Recording Industry Association of America, among others, have been busily pushing so-called legitimate downloads. In its recent sales figures press release, ARIA had this to say:

"In 2004, there was a ten-fold increase in the global market for legitimate digital music downloads – a trend that the industry anticipates will start to be replicated locally during 2005. Whilst the online services currently operating in Australia have yet to break through in the same way that they have overseas, the industry is encouraged by the overseas results during 2004 and looks forward to similar success locally during 2005."

In their recent court proceedings against Sharman Networks and others it was clear that ARIA was also attempting to disseminate these messages:

  • Don’t download music from peer to peer services such as Kazaa, buy your CDs instead.
  • But of you have to download music, pay for it – and buy it from one of the three authorised retailers of downloads in Australia – Bigpond music, Ninemsn or Destra (through Sanity or one of their other partners).

So after all of this, and all of the money spent in the Kazaa case, you’d think you could buy a download of Jesse McCartney’s national number one single.

Right? Well... wrong!

According to my study of the top 20 ARIAnet singles and recent releases, many chart titles could not be purchased from Bigpond music, Ninemsn or Destra. Hit singles unavailable from all of the services included Jesse’s McCartney’s aforementioned smash, as well as hits from Tammin, the Wrights, Garbage and Lil Jon. This leaves iPod-owning fans of these (and other) tracks with two choices: either buy the CD singles and rip them into a compressed digital format so that they can be played on their hardware; or download the track from an unauthorised peer-to-peer service/MP3 website.

Beware, though: both of these alternatives are illegal under Australian copyright law. And forget going stateside, because Australian consumers still can't access iTunes and other MP3 services from the United States. ®

Alex Malik is a lawyer, music industry commentator, and academic researcher at the University of Technology in Sydney. He is currently undertaking a PHD in law, with a specialisation in copyright law in the digital age. He can be contacted at Alex.Malik@student.uts.edu.au

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