In a turning point for the record industry’s battle against digital music pirates, EMI has announced that almost all of its artists, with the notable exception of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, were being put online.
Accepting that the Internet had irrevocably changed the way CDs were marketed, the world’s third-largest recording company has signed deals with 20 music distributors, including HMV, Freeserve, Dotmusic and MTV.
The move comes in the wake of the sinking of Napster, the original driving force behind piracy, although sites such as Kazaa and Soulseek still exist, enabling users to swap songs with each other for downloading.
According to Tony Wadsworth, chief executive of EMI Recorded Music UK, it is acting in the belief that “the vast number of consumers don’t want to be thieves”.
More than 140,000 tracks are being made available for downloading. The work of 3,000 artists will be accessible, led by Norah Jones, who collected five Grammy awards in February for her debut album, Come Away With Me.
EMI, which traces its roots to the invention of the gramophone in 1878, is also making available the work of Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Blur, Blue, Kylie Minogue, David Bowie, the Beach Boys, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, Sir Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Placido Domingo and Nigel Kennedy.
Wadsworth said about 90 per cent of the company’s catalogue would be put on the web, although some artists, including the Beatles and the Stones, were watching to “see how the market develops”. He predicted an expansion of the music market.
Industry sources said tracks would be available for less than £1 for a single to between £9 and £10 for an album.
While CD sales in the UK have been reasonably stable, those in the US are dropping. Global sales fell to £20 billion last year, according to the International Federation for the Phonographic Industry.
The EMI move will allow fans to “burn” music straight to CD from hard drives, copy tracks to portable players and even purchase singles in advance of commercial release.
The action follows the most aggressive anti-pirate lawsuits yet by the Recording Industry Association of America. Four US university students have been accused of enabling large-scale copyright infringement.
Billions of dollars are being demanded in damages.
As a result, the United States Naval Academy punished 85 students who were found to have downloaded copyrighted songs. Penn State University also deprived 220 students of high-speed Internet connections in their dormitories after finding they were getting free music.