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Music piracy, thanks to mobiles

That is what the recording firms fear. Many top-grade phones have enormous music storage and transfer capability built into them

31st October 2005

As music and video take the prime spot in high-end mobile phones, the recording industry is worried - last time, it was the wave of Net pirates which threatened their bottomlines, this time, it is the ordinary cell user.

Music firms have been battling piracy ever since fans started uploading their collections into web servers for free downloads. As more and more music became easily available online, the recording firms' bottomlines eroded proportionately. There have been several cases in the west where music firms and recording companies were pitted against each other. Now, with the arrival of high-end mobile phones, is time for next-generation music piracy.

Music piracy spread its tentacles with the arrival of tiny MP3 players, which could store far more music than any conventional disc player. The industry shuddered with the entry of the iPod Godzilla, some of which could store several thousands of songs. Despite all good intentions and the best efforts by Apple, the cute iPods are still used by thousands for playing illegally downloaded and stored music.

To be fair to Apple Computer, the iPod came with some security checks which, to some extent, prevented music piracy. However, geeks soon came up with techniques to override the iPod defences.

This time, however, the threat is far more menacing: more and more cellphone companies are building music storage facilities into their latest handsets, in an effort at value-addition. If 100 pounds brought you an ordinary cellphone a few years back, now the same amount gets you a phone which can play music and video. Temptation soon proved to be the mother of invention.

Some of the ordinary cellphones now available can store hundreds of music files in compressed file formats like MP3 and WMA. Nokia is currently developing the N91 music phone, which can store about 3000 music files. The phone will be available in December. It's going to be a cold Christmas for the recording industry and the album singers.

Many cellphones come with the facility to add memory with a memory stick or card. This jacks up the mobile phone's potential to store even more for voracious music fans.

What has been even more threatening is the ease with which music files can be transferred between mobile phones. Unlike the iPod or the early music players which needed a computer interface, music can be shared between mobiles via Bluetooth or an ordinary cell network. The music files can also be instantly transferred to a memory stick, which can then be downloaded to a computer.

Bluetooth, a nascent technology for portable wireless communication has been a boon for mobile users, but promises disaster for the music industry. Bluetooth enabled-phones can easily and quickly transfer files between themselves without the hassles of a computer interface or the expense of cell network usage. This, the music industry fears, can be very handy for music pirates.

However, it would not be fair to blame the mobile phone makers alone - Bluetooth and high memory storage have been technological advancements, which like many others, are used for illegal file-sharing and storing.

Mobile phone makers themselves have been hemmed in by the expansion of the iPod range. The iPod has consistently extended its range, building photo and video capabilities into a tiny package. With the Apple-Motorola alliance in the background, the cellphone industry fears that it will only be a matter of time before an iPod emerges with telecom capability. Before that happens, the mobile industry will have to scale up so that their phones become the ultimate music-telecom convergence device.

All of which have left the music industry gasping. Unlike conventional computer-to-computer or mobile-to-mobile file transfers, it is next to impossible to pin down Bluetooth file transfers. This is because the phones themselves act as tiny file transmitters and receivers without any external network travel. Due to the portable nature of cellphone music and the gargantuan memories being built into mobile phones, it will only be matter of time before the mobile phones start spooking the music industry. And that day may not be far off.



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