Recently 25 tertiary students were fined for illegal download of music. But are record companies in $ingapore doing enough to encourage $ingaporeans to download music legally? Paul Tan of PlanetMG.com, one of two main companies here offering paid music downloads, gives his views.
[Edward Neubronner, chief executive officer of the RIAS was contacted for his views but did not respond.]


PlanetMG, a unit of Sony Marketing Asia Pacific Pte Ltd, offers around 5,000 songs in the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format but not as MP3s. As PlanetMG's Paul Tan, Manager (Solutions Marketing), adds, "we've got over 500 artists to choose from and the charges are US$1.49 for majors and US$1 for indies." The other local company, Soundbuzz.com, has 9,817 songs, with prices between $2.57 and $1.68.

Because it is part of Sony, PlanetMG has Sony acts but other major label artists are not represented. Soundbuzz may have a large regional repertoire (you can find local acts Stroll, Global Chaos and the Bushmen) but current top US/UK Top 40 hits are missing. For example, two of the current top download songs on Apple iTunes - Britney Spears' Toxic and Outkast's Hey Ya! - are not available at both PlanetMG or Soundbuzz.

In comparison, Apple's iTunes has more than 500,000 songs to download. The price is also much more attractive at US 99 cents (S$1.68).

Until record labels in $ingapore can offer a wider selection and a competitive price, students in $ingapore will have to sit and stare at their flickering computer screens tempted to download MP3s but terrified of the University's secret police.

Paul, how do you think PlanetMG and the music business can convince music fans to download music legally?

Good quality music, better catalogue, reasonable price point and understanding that the consumer wants a hassle free kind of download situation where they can enjoy it and take it wherever they want, especially after they have paid for it. They want to consume and enjoy it like a CD with minimal rules given to them.

Malaysia has postponed the new legal fixed pricing of CDs to April 2004. The plan is to lower CD prices by law (US$5.50 for Malaysian artists and US$7.60 for international acts). What do you think of CD prices in Singapore? High, low, just right?

The big chain stores are overpricing the CDs and some even putting an "Import" label to justify the high price. I believe the bigger chain stores have economies of scale to negotiate for better discount which should be passed on to the consumer. I feel the price can be better adjusted to compete with pirates and illegal music consumption on the net.


"The point to be made with the 25 $ingaporeans being fined is to tell the public that they can be prosecuted if found guilty of such acts."

- Paul Tan of PlanetMG

Recently 25 $ingaporeans were fined for music downloads. Do you think this is the way to go?

I think this is a start point to let the younger population understand that it is a crime to "steal" music this way. I think we need to educate the consumer that these people who make music rely on it for a living and only through such incomes then can record labels survive and artists make a living out of this.

The point to be made with the 25 $ingaporeans being fined is to tell the public that they can be prosecuted if found guilty of such acts.

For those students who were fined, how do you think any fan who gets a fine will feel? Will he or she be encouraged to buy music or will he or she just drift away to some other form of pop entertainment like video games, the movies or sports?

Obviously they will feel upset but like all punishments, they are meant to be corrective. I don't think it will deter them from enjoying these media but they will think twice before doing it again, even their friends will be influenced into that train of thought.

Is there a better way to handle this issue?

Don't think so as this has been going on in $ingapore for some time and no corrective measure has been taken.


"You won't go into a CD shop and steal a CD, would you? But that's what you're doing if you illegally download or share a music file."
- Edward Neubronner, chief executive officer of the RIAS, speaking to the nation-builder press, Feb 20, 2004.

Your songs are in the WMA format. Is there a reason for this? [Editor's note: See below for an explanation of the WMA format.]

Flexibility of this format in terms of delivery.

Doesn't the MP3 format have a wider appeal and reach?

MP3 does not have DRM capability — meaning it can be abused and it's a free-for-all format.

Any plans to provide, say, a list of top 10 downloadable songs for the week? There doesn't seem to be one on the PlanetMG site.


What are your future plans — in terms of music downloads and PlanetMG?

We're looking at possible new business model and new forms of music consumption via the web — that's all I can say for now.

Note: PlanetMG did not want to divulge information on how many paid downloads they get a month.

WMA - What It Is

WMA is a file format developed by Microsoft to compete with MP3. The letters stand for Windows Media Audio and the file format ends with the .wma extension. The drawbacks of WMA is that it is a proprietary format meaning that Microsoft charge whatever fees they wish to developers that want to incorporate support for the format in their software. The format also incorporates differing levels of copyright protection which angers some users, limiting them to what they can do with their own music. That means that unlike MP3s, WMA is not a format that allows music to be easily transferable and shared.

For more, visit http://www.mp3-converter.com/faq/wma.htm

DRM - What It Is

Content providers can protect WMA files from unauthorised playback by using a technology called digital rights management (DRM). A WMA file that has been assigned digital rights is called a "protected file." In other words, this limits the number of users who can play a WMA file.

Playing WMA files

To play WMA files, you need to download a free WMA player. In the case of PlanetMG, unless you own one of those Sony portable devices, you will need to convert the WMA file into an MP3 file before burning onto a CD. Also, PlanetMG's WMA download allows the user to make only three transfers to a portable device.

That means that it's harder to share music using WMA files. On the other hand, MP3 files can be easily burnt onto CDs and these CDs can be played on a wide variety of players.

While the concept of the internet calls for a spirit of sharing and easy transfer of information, the proprietary nature of WMA makes it more like the MiniDisc or the SACD or DVD Audio - where the format can only be played on a limited number of machines.


For more... email singbigo@singnet.com.sg with the message, "Put me on your mailing list."



Spread The Word #304, Feb 2, 2004.


It wasn't one girl after all. On Feb 2, 2004 we reported that one $ingaporean was fined $4,000 for downloading music from Kazaa. But a Feb 18, 2004 report in the nation-builder press said 25 students have been caught and fined by their university "in the past six months". The report said the music companies did not catch the students but that National University of Singapore fined 20 students $200 each while Nanyang Technological University caught and fined five students.

This was revealed in the report: "Copyright owners complained to NTU and NUS after they tracked down the computers involved in the illegal swops." It was not explained how the music companies managed to detect music downloads in students computers. It was also not explained why the $ingapore courts were not used to charge the students if music downloads are illegal or how a university is empowered to fine its students for breaking a country's law. In the US, some universities challenged the music companies in court.

It became illegal for $ingaporeans to download music when the US and $ingapore Free Trade Agreement became law on Jan 1, 2004. $ingapore now has to obey US copyright laws. Previously, there had been no attempts to penalise $ingaporeans who downloaded music from the internet. Only vendors of pirated CDs and porno VCDS had previously been arrested by the police and charged in court.

University students in $ingapore now know "they can't be anonymous in cyberspace".

The report added: "A 22-year-old engineering student at NTU, who spoke on condition he wasn't named, said: 'Now I know my identity can be tracked, I'll remove the Kazaa program from my computer and stop sharing files over the network.'"

"Imagine, $ingapore universities are now policeman and judge for the music companies. We do not recall $ingapore universities ever policing the misuse of pirated computer software in students' computers. What police activities are $ingapore universities planning next?"
- The young, restless and cynical Mirror Of Opinion, Feb 18, 2004.

+ + + + +

Cohesion, January/February 2004.


$ingapore signed the Free Trade Agreement with the United States which came into effect Jan 1, 2004 and one disadvantage is more stringent control over downloading of music on the internet. The January/February 2004 issue of Cohesion magazine reported that a local Kazaa user was recently fined $4,000 after ignoring warnings to stop downloading music files illegally. When contacted, Edward Neubronner, chief executive officer of the Recording Industry Association of $ingapore [RIAS], said that this was the first time he had heard of the case and had no knowledge of the case at all. Likewise, phone calls to Warner Music, BMG, Sony, Universal and EMI elicited a similar response.

The only clue to the mysterious person who was fined was this note left on the jeremyratnam.com message board. Posted by b|each on Nov 25 last year, the note reads: "I have a friend... she got fined $4,000." Readers with any details of this case are welcomed to share their information with us. Cohesion is published by the North West Community Development Council. The mayor is Dr Teo Ho Pin, a PAP man.

The person could be the first $ingaporean to be caught under the new US-led copyright laws.