The industry's response has been to close down music swapping systems such as Napster and, in a recent development, to go after individual consumers who illegally download music.
Ironically it has taken a computer company, Apple, to call the music industry's bluff. Apple's iTunes has sold more than five million tracks legally online in its first eight weeks. By attacking online music distributors the industry has been trying to stifle the very market opportunity it craves.
Now it is putting together a plan to take advantage of this market. Sony Music, EMI and Universal are busy forming partnerships and licensing deals for legitimate online services. But why has it taken so long? The potential for the internet to distribute music has been known about for more than 10 years, and people have been doing it for at least five. An industry that moves as slowly as this when new technologies emerge is asking for a kick in the teeth, and that is exactly what music companies have got.
In just a few years most media and entertainment could be distributed using digital networks. Film, TV, video games, print media and, of course, computer software represent a multibillion-pound chunk of our economy. IT professionals can be at the heart of a transformation that allows companies to take advantage of this new business landscape. Otherwise, as in the case of the music industry, it could be left to another sector to lead the way.
Distributors and retailers will also have to evolve their business practices and use of IT if they are to survive the new business environment.
The transformation has already begun. Earlier this year Computer Weekly reported on the BBC's £1.3bn IT investment that will allow it to distribute content internally over an IP-based network. The broadcaster will then be in a position to distribute video content over the internet once consumers are ready for it. Unless others in the media start to follow suit they will be left behind, just like today's record companies.
There will be no other industries where IT professionals will be more important than those that need to distribute their products online. Effective IT within these corporations, together with an ability to manage external IT relationships will be vital to success. This is a massive opportunity for IT professionals to rebuild the credibility lost to the dotcom crash.