Indepedent labels make an eleventh-hour complaint to the Office Of Fair Trading over the inclusion of downloads...

The trade body representing the UK’s independent record companies has approached the OFFICE OF FAIR TRADING in a bid to halt the integration of downloads into the UK SINGLES CHART.

The physical and digital charts are due to merge this Sunday (April 17). But after weeks of negotiation, the Association Of Independent Music (AIM), which represents the interests of the UK’s indie labels is not satisfied that system is fair on independent artists.

A government department, the OFT could launch an investigation if it decides that the new system infringes the law.

A statement released today said: “AIM welcomes the further legitimisation of downloads by inclusion in the singles chart once the supply chain is suitably developed, appropriate monitoring systems are in place and independent labels are able to compete on a level playing field.

“Although independents have been actively licensing since the dawn of the digital age, it has become increasingly clear that independents being left behind in the queue to offer a broad range of digital music through legal sources. This is through no fault of their own but rather, reflects the prioritisation of major companies’ catalogues.”

At the moment, the charts have been compiled according to physical sales alone, but the expansion of the digital music market, along with falling singles sales, have forced the Official Chart Company to adapt in order to properly reflect the way music is consumed.

However, AIM does not believe that dominant sites like iTunes, Napster and MyCokeMusic are yet selling enough independent music for the new chart to provide an accurate picture, and fear that smaller artists will be squeezed out.

The charts were originally due to merge on March 20, but were delayed by a month over fears that the independent sector was not adequately represented. At the time, BPI Chairman Peter Jamieson admitted: “For a multitude of reasons the current chart representation of independent repertoire is poor. We have consulted widely with our independent members and we want to give both sides more time to work on this problem.”

But that month has not been long enough to satisfy AIM. “The decision (to go to the OFT) was taken reluctantly after the Association had exhausted all possible channels to impress upon the joint venture partners of the Official Charts Company that the proposed combined singles chart is not yet safe for public scrutiny.”

According to AIM’s statistics, such a chart would at this stage provide a distorted picture, since independently released music does not yet have the same strength of distribution. They claim that in last week’s test combined chart, 33% of major labels’ test sales were in digital format compared to 16% from independents. Meanwhile, nearly 60% of independent singles were not available in the digital format.

However, the Official UK Charts Company have hit back, saying the criticisms are unfounded. And in a statement, they claim that midweek predictions show independents are actually doing better than under previous chart regulations.

It reads: “Midweek figures indicate that the combined chart for this Sunday is likely to feature eight titles from independent labels, two more than would appear in a physical format top 40. In other words, at this stage of the week, independents are actually doing better out of the combined chart than they would have done if downloads were not included.

They also said that they had not as yet been contacted by the Office Of Fair Trading.

The UK download chart was launched last September, and the first number one was taken by the five-year-old [url=]Westlife song ‘Flying Without Wings’, released by BMG.

Earlier this week, one senior independent label executive admitted he knew of plans to sabotage the first combined chart in a bid to show up how easy the system is to manipulate.