Music Pirates Going Clean

For whatever reason, the number of Internet users who download music free of charge took a dive over just six months last year.

Last May, 29 percent of Net users said they had downloaded or swapped copyrighted music, according to a survey by a Pew Charitable Trusts project called the Internet and American Life.

But by December, the figure had dropped dramatically to 14 percent.

That's good news for both recording artists and music listeners, since any continuing rise in free downloads would have run the risk of removing a financial incentive for creative work in the music industry.

A couple of things happened that may explain the decline.

Last September, the Recording Industry Association of America began suing individuals for downloading music files - more than 340 cases so far. That might have pricked the conscience of many digital freeloaders, or at least scared them off.

The other change was Apple Computer's promotion of its iPod listening device and iTunes website, which allows many popular songs to be downloaded for 99 cents each. Other websites, including the one that once offered free downloading, Napster, also began to offer paid service.

The competition in the music-download business is now fierce, and music consumers like the choices - and many may now like being honest in paying for another person's work.

Apple's solution woke up the music industry to the fact that it needs to adjust to the market with something other than litigation. The digital age requires creative thinking, not just a defensive profit mentality.

Cyberspace theft remains a real threat for many creative works, from visual art to movies. The music industry may have turned a corner and shown a way for other such industries to keep consumers satisfied while also retaining financial incentives for artists.

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