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When it comes to illegal online downloads of music, Europeans are fast catching up to Americans. Music piracy has soared with the explosion of high-speed Internet service in Europe, with new figures showing that legitimate music sales plunged in the last two years in France. “It’s what you would expect. Europe has tended to be 18 months to two years behind the States,” said Keith Jopling, a researcher for the International Federation of Phonographic Industries, or IFPI. “Europe’s catching up with the United States.” Jopling said about one in five households in Europe now have broadband connections, which ease the flow of heavy music files across computer networks. France’s national union of phonographic publishers, known as SNEP, said Monday that music sales fell 27 percent from 2002 to 2004, taking some euro350 million (US$456 million) in revenues from the market. In Germany, sales have dropped by about one-fourth in the last two years, IFPI researchers said. Sweden, among the other hard-hit European countries, suffered a double-digit drop in 2004. Many music business executives say illegal downloads will plague the business for years, but a combination of soft educational campaigning and tough legal crackdowns could take piracy out of the mainstream. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in a technology study last fall, reported that the threat of lawsuits and growth of legal downloading for a fee had reduced illegal file-swapping by half in the United States. Legal alternatives like Apple’s iTunes music portal have been a raging success in the United States, offering users a broad library of songs or tunes to choose from for a fee. Apple’s portable iPod _ which can only play music purchased online — sold more than 4 million units last year, suggesting that U.S. music lovers are willing to pay online for their tunes. On the legal front, the IFPI and affiliates last year filed thousands of lawsuits against individuals and groups believed to have illegally shared music, and has vowed more. One fear is that encryption technology will allow online music thieves to evade the legal efforts, making the hunt for those who steal copyrighted music more difficult. Another challenge is changing a misconception among some illegal file-sharers that the theft mainly hurts the biggest acts, and fighting the everybody-does-it attitude. “So many people have been getting used to downloading for free,” said Christer Lundblad, managing director of Export Music Sweden. “One of the problems is that there have not been any alternatives.” SNEP director-general Herve Rony said the industry needs to do a better job of convincing consumers that stealing music through peer-to-peer, or P2P, networks doesn’t just hurt big-name artists. “Practically all the artists are seeing a drop in sales. Every segment is getting eaten up,” he said. “Everybody is suffering a little bit. That is what the public doesn’t understand.” “If there is less money for Madonna, where do record producers get the funds to develop other artists?” he said. In one of the most ambitious ad campaigns of its kind in Europe, SNEP last month began a euro1 million (US$1.3 million) blitz seeking to win over consumers to legal downloading of songs. The television ads feature a tuxedoed orchestra player swiping video game cards, cars or even sandwiches from passers-by, followed by the message: “How would you feel?” French industry executives say they hope the slide will ease this year. There is room for optimism: sales rose 6 percent in November and 9 percent in December compared to a year earlier. “We could see the numbers flatten out in Europe this year, the numbers of illegal downloads isn’t exploding anymore,” Rony said. “But we’re far from out of a crisis just yet.” Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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