Major global record labels including Universal, Sony, and Warner Music have instructed Chinese Web sites offering free music service to start charging users, giving June 5 as the deadline to do so.
According to a Sina report Monday, which cited unnamed sources, the ultimatum indicated these record companies were determined to combat the country's high copyright infringement. A vast majority of Internet music sites in China utilize tools to provide pirated content and offer online streaming services free of charge to users.
The three record labels met several Chinese mainstream music sites, including Baidu Music, Cool Music, and Xiami.com, instructing them to launch subscription services. Sina said the June 5 deadline was established from the agreements between these record companies and music sites.
However, the agreement will not apply to all services offered by the Chinese sites. Only value-added services which include access to premium quality music or music downloads is likely to be charged, while other general services such as online music streaming will remain free to users, noted the report.
Some streaming sites in China today have already established agreements with music producers. With TenCent's QQ Music account or mobile app, for example, users can listen to or download most songs that are either published recently or in the past. But the service is available only to users within mainland China.
Other music sites like Douban Music have launched premier subscription services to its members, who pay 10 yuan (US$1.7) a month to enjoy higher quality music compared to consumers who use the site's free service.
In March, Gao Xiaosong, a famous music producer in China, said Chinese Internet users will have to start paying for online music from July 1. Several record companies, large Internet enterprises as well as relevant government administrations were finalizing efforts on this initiative to be rolled out in the country.
In response to Gao's comments, deputy director of China's National Copyright Administration Yan Xiaohong said it was inevitable consumers would have to start paying to download music. "Charging to download music is a growing trend, so it would be understandable to see online operators getting fees from their users," Yan said.
To most Chinese, downloading music or listening music free of charge have become an ingrained habit over the past decades. On the other hand, record companies have been losing significant copyright fees in a market that houses a population of 1.3 billion.
According to the "2012 Annual Report on China's Online Music Market" released by the Chinese Ministry of Culture, the country's online music industry saw tremendous growth, climbing 379 percent over the previous year to reach 1.82 billion yuan (US$298 million) in 2012.