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Google China gives music away free

Download service aims to tackle piracy

BEIJING — Google has launched a free Internet music download service in China, which aims to tackle the country’s piracy problem by giving users free downloads of licensed songs.

Accessing the new service is easy — if you read Chinese and live in mainland China.

Simply click on music on the Google China homepage, type in the artist or song and click search — and you can download anything from the entire new U2 record “No Line on the Horizon” to the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album “It’s Blitz!”

The good news: it’s all legal. The bad news: there are no plans to expand to other markets.

The Chinese service now offers about 350,000 songs from foreign and local artistes, rising to 1.1 million tracks in the next few months, and will be limited to use by computers whose Internet protocol, or IP, addresses show they are in mainland China.

The site includes the full catalogs of Chinese and Western music for Warner Music Group, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music and 14 independent labels.

It will sell be funded by selling advertising on its download page and will split revenues with music providers.

Google’s service is run by Top100.cn, a 3½-year-old Chinese Website partly owned by Google and co-founded by basketball star Yao Ming.

“With today’s offering, we complete the puzzle and offer a complete set of services that are fully integrated,” said Google China prexy Lee Kaifu.

“Today, we have completed our product line and I believe there is no reason any more that our Chinese users would refuse to use our service,” said Lee.

Around 85% of Chinese music fans listen to music online, and the vast majority of China’s 300 million webizens — the world’s largest online population — use Internet search engines to find music.

However, nearly all downloads of music files are pirated, which has long frustrated the majors keen to make money in China. It has also damaged the domestic music industry and most artists are forced to make money from ringtones or concert outings.

“This is the first really serious attempt to start monetizing online music in China,” said Lachie Rutherford, prexy of Warner Music Asia and regional head of the industry org, the Intl. Federation of Phonographic Industries.

The new service will put Google head-to-head with China’s dominant search engine Baidu.com, which has a market share of 63% vs. Google’s 28%. But Baidu is dogged by lawsuits claiming it facilitates copyright violations through downloads of unlicensed music.

EMI launched a separate venture with Baidu in January 2007 to compete with pirates by allowing free streaming of pop music from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It sells downloads for a small fee.

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