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Google offers free music downloads in China

  • Story Highlights
  • Google free music in China averaging 1.5 million downloads
  • Rather than fight piracy, record labels seek slice of online advertising revenues
  • Google aims to take market share from Chinese search giant Baidu
  • Plans to make more than a million songs free
  • Next Article in World Business »
By Emily Chang
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Google and music companies are giving Chinese Internet users free downloads.

Google and music companies are giving Chinese Internet users free downloads.

That's the idea behind Google's latest move to allow users to download free music in China. Google has partnered with a Chinese company,, to make it happen.

About 140 music labels have joined in, including the "Big Four" -- EMI Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Universal Music.

Most Chinese users get their music for free anyway, thanks to rampant online piracy. Google and its partners hope the new business model will generate revenue from advertising that all will share. More importantly, Google wants to increase traffic and catch up to its competitor Baidu.

"We will provide free, high-quality, legal downloads," Google China President Li Kaifu told CNET News. "Not providing music was a strategic mistake on our part." Video Watch how Google intends to curb piracy »

Baidu offers a popular search feature, which, despite lawsuits from many labels, enables users to download music through third-party sites.

The company commands 62.2 percent of China's market, compared with Google's 27.8 percent, according to research firm Analysys International.

Will Google's move pay off?

Well, users are already streaming songs 1.5 million times per day.

So far, Chinese music is topping the list of most popular downloads, including top artists Jolin Tsai and Liang Lin. But Western music isn't far behind. Favorites are "My Life Would Suck Without You" by Kelly Clarkson, the Backstreet Boys hit "I Want It That Way" and Sarah Brightman's rendition of "Scarborough Fair."

Brightman, who co-performed the theme song at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is a longtime favorite among Chinese fans.

Google offers about 350,000 free songs, but says more than 1 million will be available soon. The company also provides user-friendly searching and song lyrics, and recommends music based on a listener's preference.

Several students at a cafe in Beijing say they have tried the service.

"I think it will bring convenience," one girl said. "Baidu has some disadvantages, and sometimes they do not have high-quality music. I think Google will provide a large quantity of high-quality music."

It's no surprise that China's gregarious Internet community is having a heated discussion.

"I can't find any songs I like on it," one blogger wrote.

"It's good quality, but there aren't enough songs," another blogger said. "It's better than buying it, though."

Some rushed to Google's defense.

"You can't really compare Google with other sites, because all of their music is legitimate," one blogger said. "They pay those music labels for every download. Baidu and others all use pirated music."

Will Baidu make the next move?

"Actually, Baidu may be threatened now," said Internet analyst Duncan Clark.


If the Chinese search site doesn't cooperate with music companies, it could be seen as "basically aiding and abetting pirates," he added.

"But if there is a better service offered by Google ... then Google will threaten Baidu and Baidu will have to respond," Clark said.

CNN's Qiaochu Wang contributed to this report.

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