In a spectacular move, Google announced yesterday, the launch of a music service in India to help users search for legal online music streams and downloads.
Our readers might remember a post from a week ago titled 'Copyright Infringement is not Theft'. The post led to a rather passionate discussion in the comments section about the rampant piracy in India with some comments suggesting that people were just not willing to spend money on a legal purchase when they could pirate music for free from the comfort of their homes . I argued that this was in fact not the case and the problem was simply that there are no online legal alternatives available to people in India, in case they wanted a digital copy of their music or wanted to listen to music on their computers (iTunes does not allow downloads of music/video in India - only applications). But this no longer seems to be the case .
Here is a quick run down on what the service entails. The official Google India blog reports that the service is currently in labs (meaning there is sure to be further product development in the coming months). Using the Google Music Search India service, anyone (even those living outside India) can search for Bollywood/Hindi songs from current hits to old classical numbers. The song will then be streamed by Google's partners, and there is no restriction on the number of times you can stream the entire song. I consider this significant because in the US, Google only allows short previews of the songs to be streamed. A pop-up web player will be used to stream the track so there is no requirement to download any additional software or music player, which I feel is another significant feature for the reason that 'convenience' has always been advanced as a reason for illegal music being downloaded. But illegal downloads involves considerable risk in the form of viruses along with the need for additional software to download and play the music in most cases. With the idea of a pop-up player, Google appers to have struck at the heart of the problem - convenience, and shifted it in its favour.
Currently, Google's partners include SaReGaMa, In.Com and Saavn.com and as stated in the Google blog, you can 'listen to songs sung by Kishore Kumar or Shreya Ghoshal or just all songs from the movie Buddha Mil Gaya'. While the service can be accessed at the site http://www.google.co.in/music I think Google has taken an additional step with plans to integrate the service into its main search so that when someone searches for a particular track, instead of feeding results from sites hosting content illegally, the results will instead display links from the Google Music Search Engine service.
There is no doubt that the service is completely legal, since the aforementioned lables are Google's partners and have a license to stream music online. One can only hope that more join as partners.
As for downloads, the service does not currently provide download links. However, I think this is a relatively unimportant factor, since several people already use sites like Grooveshark to stream their music, given the increasing broadband internet speeds today. Further, with the expected launch of Google Music, and Google indicating that it takes Bollywood music seriously, I think it is only a matter of time before legal downloads for Hindi/Indian Classical and other Indian music becomes available at a reasonable price.
While I'm sure Google didn't get the idea from our discussions on SpicyIP, I'm satisfied that at least the music labels and corporations are listening to consumers and policy makers alike and working together to fight piracy by making legal alternatives available to users in India. Whether such efforts will help curb digital music piracy in India remains to be seen, but I have a feeling that we are moving closer and closer to a situation where illegal downloads are not going to be the first choice.