The International Herald Tribune is reporting a major escalation in the war between the Russian music site Allofmp3.com and the international recording industry. Up until now, users of the the popular site (reportedly growing by 5,000 a day) had to pay for the privilege of downloading music. But now, Vadim Mamotin, director general of the site's parent company, Mediaservices, says Allofmp3.com will move to an ad-supported model and make hundreds of thousands of albums freely available to users who download special software.
Given that allofmp3.com has already been cited by the U.S. Trade Representative as a major obstacle to Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, it's hard to see this as anything other than a big Bronx raspberry in the music industry's face. But what happens next?
Allofmp3.com claims it is legal under Russian law. The rest of the world -- at least that part of it that cares about copyright enforcement -- disagrees, virulently. But that's a sideshow I'm not going to get bogged down on. I'm more interested in whether the unwillingness of the Russian government to crack down on Allofmp3.com is because Putin and his trade negotiators want to use it as a bargaining chip in ongoing WTO deal-making, or whether the reluctance can be traced to residual resentment against the triumph of Western capitalism over Soviet communism.
Which raises a follow-up question: If Putin continues to allow Allofmp3.com to operate, and the world's freeloading downloaders rush in ever greater numbers to Russia for their music fix, and the world's big record studios implode from their unsustainable business model, can we say that, ultimately, the collapse of the Soviet Union foretold the death of the commercial music industry?