French government to subsidise music downloads

The French government has taken a novel step to combat illegal music downloads, and one that many might like to see adopted elsewhere: paying for the downloads itself.

It plans to give young people pre-paid cards with a face value of E50, while charging just E25. This means that when the cards are used to buy music from a genuine music site, the government will cover half the cost.

The EU has approved the initiative under its state aid rules.

“We welcome initiatives from member states to increase the availability of music online at a lower price for consumers and through legal distribution channels,” says Joaquin Almunia, Commission vice-president in charge of competition policy.

“Music online is certainly a driver for the success of the internet and for economic development. However, we shall ensure that such initiatives are implemented in compliance with the EU state aid rules.”

The Carte musique will allow internet users between 12 and 25 years old to download music from subscription-based website platforms. The scheme is expected to last two years, and each consumer would be able to buy one card a year. The French government expects to sell about a million cards each year.

Website operators are also expected to contribute to the scheme by cutting the price of the music, extending the duration of the subscription and/or contributing to the cost of advertising the card.

The plan caps the benefit each operator may draw from the scheme at €5 million, so that independent and niche operators can also benefit. As a result, says France, the scheme will help preserve pluralism and cultural diversity in the online music industry – an argument that’s persuaded the EU that there’s no threat to competition.