Google is today launching a free, ad-supported music service in China
, with the backing of more than 140 record labels, including the Big 4. The service sounds like exactly the sort of thing that people have been calling for since the Napster days: a search engine linked to a trove of music files, supported by advertising. Google's wanted to add
some sort of music search to its Chinese product for some time, as it's been at a significant disadvantage to rivals like Baidu, which have the feature to thank
for much of their success. The record labels say this is the first attempt to monetize online music in China, and mirrors moves by some movie studios
to compete with piracy there with new products and services, rather than through lawsuits and lobbying. These efforts always give a nod to the rampant piracy going on in China -- acting as if it's a completely different environment than the rest of the world. So is the lesson here that only if piracy, or at least the labels' and studios' perceptions of it, gets "bad enough", will they do something positive, rather than sue people or try to get laws strengthened in their favor? Or is it only because those aren't viable options in China that companies try something different there? The fact that the labels are moving forward with this plan in China, given its reputation as the wild west of copyright infringement, undermine their contention that they can solve the supposed piracy problem with legal or technological means elsewhere. Furthermore, it exposes the reality that what's staring them in the face is a tremendous opportunity, not a problem.