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March, 2005

Downloading Music in Russia

For those that haven't heard of it, ALLOFMP3 is a russian music downloading site. It allows you to download music for around 2 cents per megabyte. That basically translates to 8 or 10 cents for your average four or five minute song. Not too shabby. Supposedly the site was using a loophole in Russian copyright law, but it recently came under investigation by the Russian police. According to a CNET article:
The Russian site claimed it had licenses to do so from a local clearing house, but record labels have maintained that the licenses weren't valid. After long-standing complaints, the Moscow City Police Computer Crimes division completed an investigation earlier this month and recommended that prosecutors charge the site's operators with criminal copyright infringement.
Apparently, however, after investigating Russian authorities decided not to charge Allofmp3.com. And here's where it gets interesting. According to an entry on Alex Moskalyuk's website:
On March 4th prosecutor’s office of Moscow’s Southwestern region refused to charge AllofMP3.com in a criminal lawsuit. What’s interesting is that AllofMP3.com did not win the case due to the compulsory licensing legislated in Russia. The prosecutor’s office affirmed that the Russian music site was distributing copyrighted music from its site, and in many cases did not have a proper license to distribute them. Russian criminal law severely punishes attempts to distribute copyrighted music without proper licensing procured first. However, Russian law is quite specific about distribution of material goods, as the law usually applies to CD and DVD pirating.

Moscow prosecutor’s office noted that Russian music site does not distribute material goods, and since is not subject to prosecution under the criminal law. AllofMP3.com distributed digital goods via Internet, of which Russian criminal law says nothing. Moreover, prosecutors arrived at the conclusion that since no physical copies of the goods are delivered to the customer, AllofMP3.com can be treated as a service where site visitors can listen to the music. (The fact that it’s more than possible to burn an MP3 to an audio CD apparently escaped law enforcement).

Because the music was made of digital code, it did not fall under Russian law as a material good. This goes back to the devaluation of information because of digital technology. Digital levels the playing field, because now, all information is essentially made up of the same DNA. It's all just computer code, written up in countless different ways. They have no material existence or real value. In a way, the ability to endlessly copy something causes it to lose it's value. (Walter Benjamin speaks to this in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."). Just think of what happens in a place when money is easily copied and counterfeited.

Anyway, I don't have a real conclusion on this, I just think it's quite fascinating and I'm curious to see what happens next.

One note, though, I think charging by MB instead of by song is a more appropriate way to distribute music online. At least I think I think that.

March 7, 2005
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.