HOME Technology Nov 2006
Download relief delayed
Legal obstacles frustrating

: Since this article was written iTunes has announced it is indeed about to launch in New Zealand and the law change to enable format shifting of content has passed its first reading in Parliament (Dec 2006)

Local uptake of digital entertainment is being curbed by the refusal of TV channels to share electronic programming guides, the reluctance of apple’s iTunes to set up shop here and an archaic law which makes criminals out of anyone who copies their own music for personal use.

Liam Gunson, analyst with IDC Research says sales of media centre PCs have not lived up to the hype that first surrounded them, largely through the lack of legal content to manage including movies, TV programmes and music.

Sky TV and the free-to-air channels keep their electronic programming guides (EPG) to themselves but in the US they’re an important key to more intuitively managing the home entertainment experience from a PC hub.

Legal movie and TV download sites have evolved rapidly in other parts of the world alongside music on demand.In Australia digital music is rocketing ahead with the recording industry adding digital downloads to the mix of how it determines the top selling songs.

In New Zealand the song charts only take into account retail sales and radio play. The Recording Industry Association (RIANZ) believes it may be possible to compile a digital sales chart here next year, and is talking to online and mobile companies about how that might shape up.

The key is volume and internationally Apple’s iTunes is leading the way. The service, specifically geared to deliver content to Apple’s iPod music players, has resulted in major growth in online music sales in Australia but there are only whispers and denials when plans for a local iTunes site are discussed. The Australian and US sites prohibit downloads by New Zealand iPod users.

That leaves Digirama, which now features a full catalogue from all major labels, plus music videos and streaming radio; Coketunes which continues to grow its online catalogue and Amplifier which focuses on local music. Song downloads are $2 each. Mobile sites from Telecom and Vodafone are also competing for the legal download market.

It’s anyone’s guess how many local music lovers are accessing illegal file sharing sites for their music. That’s something the mainstream music industry is now getting extremely heavy about, prosecuting persistent downloaders and shutting down or banning peer-to-peer sites such as Grokster, and Kazaa.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) says total music sales dipped four percent to $US13.7 billion in the first half of 2006 while digital sales rose by 106 percent to $US945 million, now representing 11 percent of the worldwide recorded music market.

Access to digital music in New Zealand is further complicated by the fact that it is illegal to copy your old tapes or LPs into digital format, make compilations or even copy CD tracks onto portable MP3 players.

A law revision allowing ‘format shifting’ of sound recordings for personal use is expected to have its first reading in Parliament before the end of the year. The proposed changes to the Copyright Act 1994, intended to bring New Zealand up to speed with the digital age, has languished with low priority since it was first drafted in 2003.

Legally you could have yours CDs confiscated, face a hefty fine or jail time but in this case the law really is out of step with the times, and no-one is going to enforce it unless you’re making heaps of copies for sale.

In a way it makes a mockery of tape recorders, CD and DVD burners, burning software, recordable media and portable hard disk music players, so clearly designed to assist in this ‘crime’. The long overdue commonsense revision, allowing music lovers to make a single copy of their own music for personal use, is expected to pass into law, possibly early in 2007.

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