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.