Despite digital album sales rising in Australia 45.9 percent over the last 12 months, Australians still spent less on recorded music in 2011.

Sales of recorded music in Australia totalled $382.7 million in 2011, down but not sharply from $384 million in 2010. But when you look at the record sales from just 6 years prior in 2005, $528 million, you can see that the industry is still yet to bottom out.

Now according to News Limited, the Australian music industry is requesting government assistance to tackle continuing widespread piracy which they claim is costing the industry and artists millions of dollars a year.

Research commissioned by the industry showed that one in four Australian internet users download or stream illegal music each month, and Australian Recording Industry Association CEO Dan Rosen is demanding something be done.

“Online piracy is still the biggest challenge we face as an industry,” Rosen said. “There’s no moral justification anymore, everything is available digitally and legally, it’s purely people stealing.”

Rosen is meeting with the government and internet service providers and is seeking tougher policing and regulation in an attempt to curb the tide of illegal downloading which a growing number of Australian’s now see as a legitimate way to obtain music.

“It’s not about whacking people, it’s about making sure they’re aware they’re doing the wrong thing and have an opportunity to change their behaviour,” Rosen said. “The government recognises that it’s a legitimate issue. They’re spending a lot of money on a national broadband network, Australian content has to prosper on that.

“This is an issue that started with the music industry and is now affecting all content industries, from film to books. It’s affecting our ability to tell Australian stories and taking money from grassroots musicians and filmmakers.”

The news comes against a backdrop of struggling local record stores and distributors. Just yesterday Melbourne label Aztec Music announced they were going into receivership after the importing arm of the business lost $350,000 from distributors and music stores closing down.

But not everyone agrees with Rosen’s assessment of the state of the industry. The founder of music streaming service Rhapsody gave a speech recently where he belittled the music and film industries for overstating the effect illegal downloads has had on their bottom line.

“By refusing to sell their music online for years, the labels gave piracy a monopoly on all of the great things that the Internet can enable for music lovers,” said Rob Reid. “This meant that hundreds of millions of people discovered music downloads through pirate services, so piracy was utterly entrenched by the time we were finally allowed to compete with it, years later.”

While Reid agrees that revenue in the music industry is down since 2000, he disagrees with estimates thrown about by bodies such as the RIAA who claim the damage is in excess of $58 billion.

One thing Reid and Rosen can agree on though is that streaming subscription services are one shining light in a sea of darkness for the industry. The success of services such as Spotify and Rdio overseas has seen millions of listeners who otherwise would download music illegally finally start paying something again.

“After a decade of being at the mercy of technology, we’re the first content industry to come out the other side and create new initiatives on technology,” Rosen said. Rdio launched last month in Australia, and Spotify is tipped to be launching any day now.

The jury is still out however whether these streaming services will be able to achieve mainstream success and start getting Australians to pay for music again.

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