AllofMP3, a music-download site, announced that it will reopen after a Russian court acquitted the site’s former owner of violating IP law. The site was originally forced to close following pressure from the US administration over Russia’s poor protection of IP rights.
This case immediately reminds me of the controversial Napster site which was forced to close in the US. Napster was subsequently reopened but the difference now is that it charges a fee and is in compliance with copyright law. Unlike Napster, AllofMP3 charges its users a fee and so is making a profit direct from its activities. To me this is completely nonsensical and I cannot believe it is being allowed to continue on this course.
Original music is and should be protected by copyright laws. There should be no debate over whether or not downloaded music is subject to the same copyright laws as regular music. But because some people have discovered new ways of obtaining it for free suddenly there are doubts. Just because the innovative burglar finds a new way to break into the record shop doesn’t mean its not burglary. So is AllofMP3 infringing the copyright of the music that is available for download on its site? I would say absolutely yes! If the copyright owners are not giving their consent to the website then it is clearly infringing the copyright laws.
However this is not a Canadian case but a Russian one so Canadian laws and logic do not apply. According to AllofMP3, Russian legislation means that they do not need direct agreements with individual artists to sell their music. They just need a licence from a Russian organisation of collective management of rights of authors, performers and record labels. However the problem is that the US record companies don’t recognise the Russian collecting agency and so refuse to accept royalties from it. In this case both parties should come together to sort out their differences because ultimately in this situation it is the US companies and artists that are losing out.
Even though Russian law has not found the former owner guilty perhaps international IP law could intervene to protect the copyright owners. Russia is a party to the Berne Convention and to WIPO. So surely Russia has an obligation under international law to protect copyrighted music? According to AllofMP3, the answer is no. They claim the site is legal in Russia (although they wont accept responsibility for users from outside the jurisdiction). However the case before the court was not about the legality of the site but about whether the activities of the owners were legal. So the site is presently operating without direct judicial consent contrary to what they claim. AllofMP3 will face further problems once Russia joins the WTO or perhaps the US wont even approve their membership if they don’t tighten up their IP laws.
I accept that there are both advantages and disadvantages to this type of copyright infringement. Users are getting access to more music which is only in the public interest. But then creators are losing out because they are not getting sufficient rewards for their work and may not be as motivated to create music for public enjoyment. Although one can argue that artists get paid millions of dollars the same is not true for new and emerging talent who often spend years trying to get a ‘break’. Then again even insiders will agree that the artists themselves do not actually make their money from singles or even album releases, they make the most profits from performances and tours. Therefore the easy worldwide availability of their music only raises their profile and increases attendance and demand for the profitable work of concerts.
However I think that it should be up to the individual rights owners to decide whether or not they want to allow their music to be freely available on the internet. They should be able to choose whether they want to take the chance of raising their profile through the internet and perhaps increasing concert ticket sales but foregoing profits from singles or whether they want to go down the traditional route of a record company releasing their music and using their market power to raise their profile. Therefore I think that AllofMP3 use of artists’ music without ensuring that the creators and/or rights owners are properly compensated is wrong.