China's copyright watchdog has urged music providers and Web site operators should meet to discuss the possibility of charging for music downloads on the Internet.
Yan Xiaohong, deputy director of the National Copyright Administration of China, said at a news conference on Thursday it was inevitable at some point, consumers will have to start paying to download music, China Daily reported.
However, the question of how to charge should be studied or decided between music suppliers and Web operators, Yan pointed out.
"Charging to download music is a growing trend, so it would be understandable to see online operators getting fees from their users," he said, adding if Web site operators still want to provide online music for users to download for free and make up their operating costs with other revenues, such as advertising, it will be fine as well.
Yan was responding to comments by Chinese composer Gao Xiaosong, who in March, said Web users will have to start paying to download his music from July 1, 2013. Many record companies, larger enterprises and several industry-related government agencies supported the move, Gao said.
At the end of last year, a few large Chinese music sites revealed the government too supported them in providing high-quality music for download, but whether the fee should be charged and who should pay remains controversial issues, the report noted.
"The premise should be to get permission from composers and pay them, no matter what decision the online operators make," Yan said.
Lin Yinliang, associate law professor of intellectual property (IP) rights at Peking University, agreed with Yan, stating the most important issue lies in how to prevent composer's copyrights from being violated.
Online music providers often use works without the authors' permission and broadcast them for free, which is the biggest problem in dealing with online copyright infringement, he added.
"Music providers, in fact, can be said to be a 'bridge' between composers and online operators, and most infringements happen when there is a problem with this 'connection'," Liu said.
However, Feng Xiaoqing, a law professor specializing in IP rights at China University of Political Science and Law, said it will be hard to charge customers who download online music in China.
Many Web users download music from the Internet "for fun", and to them, being charged to download will be almost impossible, Feng explained.
Baidu and Tencent did not respond to requests for comments from the Chinese news site.
According to the figures from China's State Intellectual Property Office, Chinese copyright administration handled 282 online piracy cases and closed 129 Web sites, while police also handled 44,000 cases involving fake commodities in 2012, the report noted.