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Korea's P2P pirate goes legal, targets Europe

Free bundled P2P: The shape of things to come?

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Legalising P2P is a sea change for the music business: instead of trying to end or control file-sharing, executives realise they merely have to make a profit from it to stave off oblivion.

Now Korea's biggest P2P operation Soribada has gone legal, finally obtaining government approval for its Orgel file-sharing service. Orgel, described as "Korea's Napster", lets users share unlimited amounts of DRM-free music files with each other for a small subscription fee.

The service was shut down in 2005 after action by the international record lobby group IFPI, following which the company changed tack. 18 months ago, it obtained the approval of major Korean collection agencies, and now an amendment to Korea's Regulation on Collection of Musical Works formalises the arrangement.

(You can have a peek here.)

The company said in a statement this week that the arrangement means that the service can now "resolve various legal disputes". And keep copyright holders overseas happy, too, presumably.

The most intriguing thing about Orgel is that it challenges the major label view that unlimited download services destroy physical sales. But is every (legal) downloader Homer Simpson?

"I have it on good authority that the Soribada user downloads 35 tracks a month," Paul Sanders of PlayLouder MSP told us. PlayLouder MSP is currently operating a beta of a similar service - the subscription fee is bundled with the price of internet access.

In January, IFPI chief executive John Kennedy reiterated the view that legalising file-sharing would wreak havoc on CD sales.

"IFPI mantains that if you give people this service, they'll download everything and stop paying," said Sanders. "This doesn't seem to be true."

P2P potential

And the potential demand for legal P2P is promising.

Based on survey data (pdf, 332kb), PlayLouder MSP reckons that two million Brits are prepared to pay an extra tenner a month for such a file-sharing service; and 70 per cent said they'd be prepared to dump their current music-less ISP (and the legal threat) in favour of a music service provider.

Interestingly, only eight per cent of music downloaders fell into the category of "diehard freetards": strongly agreeing with the view that "they were too used to downloading music for free to start paying". That's just four per cent of the overall sample. But what a lot of noise they make!

We first wrote about legal P2P more than four years ago. So what's been the hold up?

In a word, licensing. Although indies have pushed hard for such an arrangement - the Beggars Group is a supporter - major labels have been reluctant to grant licences for a legal P2P file-sharing service. MSP has three of the four majors on board, including EMI and Sony BMG.

However, attitudes have shifted. A fortnight ago, Feargal Sharkey mused here about such models:

"Would people like an all-you-can-eat download service? I suspect they probably would. In which case, is £10 enough? Or £25 too much? Or £12.50? These are the things we're trying to figure out right now," he told us.

Not everyone noticed that, though. Some people were so busy fuming at the sheer injustice of having to pay creators (the horror!) to read through to Page 4. But here's the link again.

The path ahead looks promising, then. We could find ourselves in the position that P2P is only "illegal" because one large record company - Universal - decrees that it must be illegal. ®

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