By Jonah Bromwich, PepperDigital

It was a scene straight out of a Hollywood fever dream—complete with a larger than life villain with an absurd moniker, a worldwide criminal enterprise, and lots of money at stake.  When Megaupload magnate Kim Dotcom was arrested on January 20th, it signaled the end of an era for a certain kind of internet troll.  Before it was shut down in the United States, Megaupload had become the 13th most popular site on the internet, frequented by practiced file-sharers who had gotten used to downloading large amounts of content, particularly in the form of music, free of charge.

While the end of Megaupload didn’t stop illegal file sharing altogether (far from it, in fact) it signaled an opportunity for more legitimate music sources to ensnare consumers looking for new ways to consume.  The Megaupload collapse will have left users scrambling for a new site, and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t start downloading music legally, if presented with a viable, easy-to-use option.  Apple may be responding to that need by remodeling their iTunes Store model but will that be enough to stop these one-time music thieves from returning to their criminal ways?  With overall music scales growing in 2011 for the first time since 2004, it seems entirely possible that digital sales could erupt if greedy fans can’t find an easier way to access the music they crave.  However, lowering prices on albums and offering more free content would help to make the transition even smoother.

But there’s another option for former criminal downloaders.  While file-sharing sites appeal to a certain kind of music listener—one who also fancies himself as a collector and places a high priority on owning information—there are plenty of people who are happy using music databases to stream their favorite tunes.  Services such as the instantaneously popular Spotify have a lot to gain from the sudden collection of music junkies floating around the web.  The free streaming and ease of use that Spotify has become known for will be extremely attractive to former Megaupload users, who are accustomed to listening to exactly what they want, when they want it.

It’s up to the music industry to seize this opportunity and lure these music thieves back over to the right side of the law.  With the government supplying the vinegar in the form of police raids and crackdowns, all the industry needs to do is provide a little honey to ensure that these flies are back where they belong—purchasing or streaming their music from legitimate sources.

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