The East Is Wired


The corporate barons who own most pop music in the United States and Europe hate MP3, a computer-file format that makes it easy to post CD-quality music on the World Wide Web. Although it has so far mostly been used by unsigned acts and would-be pop stars to distribute their own music, record labels argue--not incorrectly--that MP3 also makes it easier to reproduce and distribute unauthorized versions of copyrighted material.

It's somehow fitting, then, that China, a nation often accused of coddling those who pirate Western entertainment products, is now planning to launch its very own state-financed and regulated MP3 site in late spring. The site is a joint venture with an American company called Houston InterWeb Design.

The Chinese Ministry of Culture, which will review all music posted on the site, envisions a place where all of China's 1.2 billion potential Madonnas and Ricky Martins can tunefully sing the praises of the state to a worldwide audience. As Western record labels are finding out, however, technologies that ease the transmission of information have a way of escaping centralized control. Chinese authorities may think they're creating a music portal that will be easy to supervise and turn to their own purposes, but they may be singing a different tune once the site goes live.