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Bollywood calls the tune on downloads

MUMBAI, Aug 25 – Abhishek Choudhary is a typical college student. Like millions of other teenagers, whenever he wants to listen to the latest Bollywood tune, he logs on to his computer and downloads it for free.

The illegally-obtained tracks are then transferred onto his mobile phone and shared with friends using Bluetooth technology, providing a beat to their daily lives.

"It’s easy and freely available. That’s the best part of the Internet. I can get any kind of Bollywood music through different websites at any time," said 19-year-old Abhishek, who asked for his real name not to be used.

But his days of downloading and easy exchanging could be numbered, as the Indian government looks to get tough on the intellectual property pirates.

A new law is winding its way through parliament, recommending up to two years in jail for anyone caught bootlegging music CDs.

And earlier this year, four major Bollywood studios teamed up with a private security firm in Mumbai to take on the DVD counterfeiters who cost the film industry an estimated 15 billion rupees (300 million dollars) every year.

Like elsewhere in the world, the arrival of the MP3 format, increasing take-up of the Internet and portable music devices like iPods have changed the way people buy and enjoy music in India.

In 2008, the Indian music industry was worth some 7.3 billion rupees, down from 8.3 billion rupees three years earlier, according to a KPMG report for the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

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Revenues could fall up to nine percent by 2013 as consumers switch from buying music CDs and audio cassettes to digital formats, prices drop to stay competitive, and unauthorised copying of tunes continues, it added.

Bollywood, India’s popular Hindi-language film industry, drives the country’s music scene, with the most popular songs mainly coming from the hundreds of movies that come out each year.

Now, as corporate investment from home and abroad transforms film-making, production and marketing from an informal family affair into a multi-national business, the industry is looking to modernise every revenue stream.

The first step has been taken by India’s largest music company, T-Series, which is to offer music from the upcoming film "Blue" on portable USB memory sticks and mobile phone cards.

Music for the film, starring a host of big name Bollywood stars and a cameo role from Australian singer Kylie Minogue, has been composed by A.R. Rahman, who won two Oscars for his work on "Slumdog Millionaire" earlier this year.

The idea is to make clients out of youngsters like Abhishek, rather than criminalise them, said T-Series’ managing director Bhushan Kumar.

"The trend in music is strongly favouring digital platforms," he told reporters recently.
"We will be aggressively looking at mobile memory chips through which people can carry music on their phones and will be looking at pen drives which people can carry with them and use in laptop as well as car audio systems."

Another music company, Saregama, aims to follow suit.

India is one of the fastest-growing telecoms markets in the world.

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The number of mobile phone subscribers crossed the 400 million mark in April, with the country on track to have half a billion customers by next year, according to official data released in June.

Kumar said the formal sale of Bollywood tunes for mobile phones was a "revolutionary step which may change music consumption in India to a great degree".

Abhishek said he would use the technology "as long as it’s cheap and affordable" — a key test as to whether it takes off among India’s tech-savvy, urban youth.

T-Series and Saregama have yet to divulge how much their devices will cost.


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