Saturday, September 22, 2007

Music Industry Tests Malaysia's Internet Policies With Plea To Block Illegal Downloading

Record labels, faced with sliding sales, called on Malaysian authorities Friday to block Web sites that offer illegal music downloads — a move that could test the government's pledge not to censor the Internet.

The Malaysian music industry's revenue was 87 million ringgit in 2006, a fall from annual average sales of 200 million ringgit in the late 1990s, said Tan Ngiap Foo, chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of Malaysia. The figures comprised sales of both local and foreign artists.

Pirate sites based in foreign countries that offer free file-swapping services are currently believed to be the main threat, because many Malaysians are downloading songs instead of buying CDs amid the increasing availability of computers, digital music players and high-tech mobile phones, Tan told The Associated Press.

The trade association plans to submit a preliminary list of such sites — including some based in China, South Korea and Russia — to government regulators soon, Tan said. It would widen the group's anti-piracy work, which previously focused on seeking crackdowns on shopping malls and commercial zones where pirated CDs are openly sold.

The Communications and Multimedia Commission, the regulatory body for Malaysia's telecommunications industry, did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

The Malaysian government vowed to ensure unfettered access to Internet content in the late 1990s in a bid to win foreign investment for its efforts to become a regional hub for internet technology development.

Authorities have largely stuck to that promise, though government regulators recently blocked several illegal investment Web sites, including foreign-based ones, following complaints that thousands of Malaysians had fallen prey to online financial fraud.

Tan said record labels realize their request might be controversial, but stressed that "it's time for the government to take a stance. Illegal downloading is clearly copyright infringement," he said. He added that the companies were also proposing new laws so that people who participate in illegal music file sharing, either by making content available or downloading tracks to their computers, could be prosecuted.

The association represents about 100 companies and businesses, including the Malaysian operations of EMI Group PLC, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. (International Herald Tribune)
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