Chinese music producer Gao Xiaosong announced Tuesday that the music industry faces 'earth-shaking' changes as free online downloading will end after July 1.
"Various record labels, music websites and the government are all doing the tail-end of the work. The Chinese online music market will step into an era of legal copies." Gao said at a launch ceremony for the Top Chinese Music Awards, which are due to take place in April.
The deadline was confirmed by Wang Changtian, president of Enlight Media, a mainland entertainment giant.
A producer of pop songs, Gao became widely known after being sent to prison for six months for drink-driving in May 2011.
Gao said record companies, online providers and relevant parties have come to an agreement after negotiations. Record companies have compromised on pricing to encourage a paid music service and copyright protection.
It is unknown what form the paid service will be.
"Exact information will be released by relevant industries later, but it's for sure the price will be very very low," Gao added.
The producer contributed to changes of the newly amended Copyright Law.
The amended law, adopted in January 2013, means stricter punishment to copyright infringers and offers musicians and their original work better protection of rights.
There were strong protests from music circles last April when the draft amendment to the law was first published. The draft consisted of controversial provisions, including one allowing music to be used without permission from producers three months after a product is released.
Singers and music producers, including Gao and rocker Wang Feng, signed a joint letter calling on relevant authorities to "listen to the voice of the music circle" and delete the controversial provision. They were successful.
Driven by digital music sales, the recording industry saw a tiny growth of 0.3 percent in 2012, the first rebound since 1988, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
In China, there are 400 million Internet users listening to and downloading online music, mostly for free.
According to China Audio & Video Association statistics, the country's 2012 music copyright market was valued at more than 40 billion yuan (6.4 billion U.S. dollars). However, actual copyright revenue only amounted to 800 million yuan.
Free music and rampant piracy has led to the fact that commercial value does not bring cash to music producers but frustration for Chinese original musicians.
Gao has complained that many producers can not make ends meet despite of their enduring efforts to create music.
"The day that music producers can make a living from their products is coming," said Gao, calling the move "a big revolution."
He said only good-quality music will earn money, and the "bad" will be eliminated.
However, many netizens are questioning the truth of the news, given that similar rumors circulated last year.
Even if true, some said it may encounter resistance from Internet users, who are accustomed to dumping the latest chart-topping songs from music websites onto their MP3s or computers.
"If the price is acceptable I totally support a paid online music service," said Wu Anbang, a department store sales manager in Beijing.
"You must pay for fruits, food and other commodities. Music is a kind of commodity," said Wu, a frequent visitor to free music portals.
Huang Weijing, former head of EMI's Chinese branch, believes a paid music service is coming, adding that the current period is "the last darkness before the dawn."