If You Pirate It, They Will Cave: Google China Cracks Down on Online Piracy by Giving Music Away for Free

In these dour days of unplenty, it's become a duplicitous cliché to draw fearful comparisons between the USA’s sorry state and the preening dragon that is the People’s Republic of China. The same goal is achieved whether one chooses to vilify China as a thickly polluted, despotic hellhole where infanticide is as common as putting on a shirt or as an invincible money-making monster that will heave and sweat and swell until it’s finally big enough to devour the entire world’s supply of cash in one sloppy gulp. Millennia of cultural and scientific innovation and a nation of more than one billion souls gets oversimplified into a McCarthy-era nightmare, where not only does the oppressive Communist menace prevail, it also manages to wield the hammer of capitalism against the West in a manner so dastardly that not even the boldest Bond villain could e’er imagine it. It’s a xenophobic cartoon that we as Americans simply should not stand for.

That’s why it pains me so much to ask this question: What gives these monk-punching, toy-soiling pinkos the right to get free, legal music from both Google and the big four record companies, while all us free market/expression-loving Americans get are lawsuits and condescending media guilt trips? Apparently, a big part of it has to do with the overwhelming amount of media transferred via piracy in China, with pirated MP3s accounting for 99% of all music files distributed. Even though a fifth of the world’s population lives in the PRC, their legitimate music industry’s annual revenue of $76 million accounts for less than one percent of global record sales.

So, how have Chinese industry heads attempted to resolve this troublesome issue without resorting to their (and the RIAA’s) time-honored tactics of needless threats and intimidation? After years of trailing the traffic numbers of Chinese search engine Baidu, Google has decided to mimic Baidu’s strategy of offering free music along with their web search function -- except Google decided to do it legally. In conjunction with Sony Music, Warner Music, EMI, and Universal Music, Google is offering free downloads of 350,000 songs from Chinese and foreign artists, with that number expected to grow to 1.1 million soon. Google hopes to draw Chinese downloaders to its site with higher quality music files, and the record companies will get a cut of the ad revenue. Everybody wins, everybody’s happy. Gee, I wonder if this sensible strategy could work anywhere else in the world...

I think you know what this means, America. Stop buying records in stores, stop going to iTunes, just pirate, pirate, pirate until Google decides to foot the bill for our insatiable appetite for pop music. Hell, we’ve already copied gunpowder, paper, and the compass from China. What’s one more thing?

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