China’s Record Labels Make Warner, EMI, UMG, and Sony Look Positively Progressive

In the Hutong
Avoiding the Motorcades
1009 Hrs.

Baidu has apparently signed agreements with no less than 16 local recording labels to give away for free online the songs of about 100 performers.

Uh, hello?

Did anybody consult the performers about this?

Supposedly Baidu did this as a slap at the big global players. In the end, though, this is going to backfire, because eventually the artists are going to realize that they’re getting the short end of this deal and tell the local recording companies where they can stick their little agreement. Well, maybe not ALL artists, but any that are commercially viable and thus worth keeping are not going to be happy. And if the music is all from artists who nobody knows or cares about, none of this will be very much help to Baidu anyway.

The Internet fundamentally weakens the labels. Despite his close cooperation with the big recording labels, one thing Steve Jobs realized very early in the iTunes saga is that the silent power behind the online media revolution is the artists themselves. Every single move in the iTunes business model is implicitly designed to reward and empower the artists.

In China, you don’t have anything like the Supreme Court and the associated body of intellectual property law and precedent to protect artists. So the artists are going to have to protect themselves.

All of a sudden, the performers signed to contracts with TR Music and its fellow members of Baidu’s Pan Music Alliance look like the IPR equivalent of sharecroppers. And I’ll bet they don’t sit still for it for long.

Technology. The power to make a good deal with your label, or simply to tell your label to get stuffed and go direct yourself.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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