Record industry becomes broken record

The global music agency known as the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (hey guys, how about updating the name?) has come out with what it says are some depressing numbers for worldwide music sales for 2007, and — perhaps not surprisingly, given the group’s history — it is using the new figures to lobby ;for legislation that would force Internet service providers to nab illegal music downloaders.

According to a report in the Times of London, the agency said that sales of music last year fell to their lowest level since 1985. That year, total sales of recorded music hit 1.8 billion units (i.e., albums). In 2007, the IFPI says that the equivalent of 1.86 billion units were sold, down from the previous year’s 2.09 billion.

According to the industry group, last year’s numbers include paid-for downloads of individual tracks, with 10 downloads equivalent to one traditional album. CD sales fell by 13 per cent last year, the IFPI says, although it’s not clear whether that number refers to actual sales or to the decline in shipments to music retailers.

Naturally, the IFPI blames rampant file-swapping through peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent for the decline in sales (despite the fact that several studies, including one sponsored by Industry Canada, have shown that downloads don’t lead to a sharp drop in music purchases, and may in fact lead to an increase in music buying by downloaders). Although the industry group mentions the rise of paid downloads — which climbed by almost 35 per cent on average — it seems almost like an afterthought.

As it has for the past year or so, the IFPI used the sales announcement as another opportunity to push ISPs to police the downloading of music files, and lend their support to the idea of a “three strikes” law — which would see Internet customers cut off after three cases of illegal downloading. Virgin Media, one of the largest ISPs in the UK, has already started voluntarily sending its customers letters when asked to by the British Phonographic Industry (the British version of the IFPI).

According to the Times story, IFPI head John Kennedy said that the group “wants ISPs to reveal details of their customers who illegally share music and possibly cut off any subscriber who breaches copyright three times [and said that] providers should engage constructively, before the tools of legislation or litigation were invoked to require them to act.”

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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