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China's free online music coming to an end?

(Xinhua)

08:21, October 31, 2012

BEIJING, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) -- Chinese netizens have long been fond of downloading the latest chart-topping songs from music websites and Internet portals, as most sites offer the tunes for free.

However, a deal between Chinese music sites and three of the world's biggest record labels could signal the end of the trend.

The Warner Music Group, Universal Music and Sony Music Entertainment are reportedly talking with major online music providers in China to set up a scheme that will charge individual users for music downloads.

Although unconfirmed by the record labels, netizens have been rabidly discussing the rumors on Sina Weibo and other popular microblogging sites.

Ran Jing, a 22-year-old hairdresser from central China's Hubei Province, described listening to free music on inexpensive mobile phones as a "cherished pastime" for many young people who struggle just to pay for their basic necessities.

"Of course I don't like to pay for music downloads, given the little money I have," he said.

Some netizens believe the fee system is reasonable, as album sales have shrunk drastically in the Internet era and resulted in hard times for record labels.

Balancing interests among websites, the owners of intellectual property rights (IPR) and the public has become a critical issue in China, with relevant parties struggling to find a realistic and sustainable profit model.

A free music platform launched by Google in 2009 was shut down last month, reportedly due to low traffic and less-than-expected income from ads.

Baidu, a Chinese search engine that has been accused of infringing on IPR multiple times, is maintaining a patented music service by paying record companies.

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