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Music industry still plagued by pirated CDs

In the latest challenge to the battered music industry, where the recent much- publicised Chipaz birthday gig flopped and gate-takings at shows are dismal, pirates are flooding the market, with counterfeit CDs that often cost nearly as much as the official versions. To make matters worse, the pirated CDs are now increasingly difficult to distinguish from the real goods.

in the groove with Fred Zindi

A vendor sells pirated CDs in Harare
A vendor sells pirated CDs in Harare

Street vendors often sell pirated CDs wrapped in transparent cellophane sleeves, which make it obvious that their CDs are not original material. However, these vendors have now moved one notch up. They seem to have become smarter now as they photocopy the original cover of the CD to pretend that they are selling the real thing.

I recently met one vendor who had a load of pirated CDs in photocopied CD covers and he tried to convince me that this was the original thing. Fortunately, I had the original CD in my car and I asked him why the colours were different. He had no answer. Dejected, he began to walk away with tail between his legs.

Most pirates and CD vendors are reaping from where they did not sow and this practice is frustrating a lot of musicians. Albums from Zimbabwe’s most popular artistes are the most vulnerable. Alick Macheso, Killer T, Oliver Mtukudzi , Jah Prayzah, Simon Chimbetu, Leonard Dembo, James Chimombe and Paul Matavire are what most pirates go for because these sell fast.

These pirates do not stick to local artistes only. They also sell illegitimate foreign CDs as they keep their ears to the ground to decide which ones to pirate. For instance, at the moment the streets are flooded with Jah Cure CDs after the pirates and vendors learned that Jah Cure will be performing in Harare on December 16.

If the recording is sold without the permission of the composer or the recording is copied and packed to resemble the original as closely as possible in order to mislead the consumer into believing that they are buying the original product, that recording is often referred to as “counterfeit”.

While counterfeiters have been burning CDs for decades, the problem has intensified for record labels during the past 18 months as more CD buyers shop online. Fake CDs are primarily sold on the streets, cost much less and are now sported with photocopied cover art and other obvious signs of phoniness.

There is also the advent of internet piracy which has become fashionable. Internet piracy involves the compressing of music, posting and transmitting it globally via the internet without the authorisation or payments of any royalties to those who invested in the creation of the project. The digital age has brought about software and hardware which enable consumers of music to download it freely through the internet.

For many years, musicians have been complaining about this fraudulent act known as piracy. While every step has been taken to alert the authorities about this problem, there doesn’t seem to be a solution to it. I just wish the authorities could impose stiffer penalties against these vendors to stop such practices. Through music piracy, these vendors are killing the music industry.

Every law-abiding citizen should help get rid of this menace by not supporting these pirates and their street vendors.

Simple consumer education should tell us that people should not be playing host to illegal items that would normally be found on the black market.

Even in the digital era, there are plenty of music fans who still buy old-fashioned CDs for more than $1 a pop. But the money that shoppers have been spending on CDs lately hasn’t necessarily been going to the artistes and record labels who created the music.

What we are most concerned about here is the unauthorised duplication of one’s original recording for a commercial gain without the consent rights of the owner.

There are several underground operators specialising in producing fake recorded music in the form of CDs and selling these to unsuspecting consumers. There are also those who make business using CD writers by simply buying blank CD-Rs and then copying any music they want or which they are asked to copy for a fee. This undermines the earning capacity of the originators of this music.

Consumers who purchase pirated copies of music end up with inferior quality products and if the sound quality is poor, they cannot exchange or ask for refunds for copies bought on the streets. At the same time, retail shops cannot compete with those selling the product at low prices. Owners of record stores, CD and cassette plants also lose out. Consequently, the government also loses out as there is no revenue in the form of income tax coming from legitimate recording business – and this does not assist our fledgling economy in any way. Without the full support of the authorities, it has become difficult to fight music piracy. The best method of fighting music piracy is through education. An appeal to people’s consciences is the best way to deal with piracy. Otherwise with the increase in technological knowledge by the pirates who can download music from the likes of YouTube, iTunes and Facebook, not much can be done to stop the stealing of music. The law enforcers might come and arrest those involved, but the limited fines imposed are not much of a deterrent to many pirates.

A lot of people in our society do not know that intellectual property is as good as other forms of property such as gold or diamonds mining, furniture-making, or the manufacture of cars and aeroplanes. When someone gets up at midnight to compose a song, he is as good as someone who gets up every morning to go and work in a gold mine.

Therefore he must also be rewarded for his work. Music piracy is harmful to the work of everyone involved. If we love music and want to support its growth and development, then it is essential that we comply with laid-down rules and regulations by buying original music copies. When one buys pirated music, he or she is creating a market for criminals and when one copies music on a CD or cassette, he or she is promoting piracy. The creativity of all the people involved in the process of creating a song should never be taken for granted as this could be someone’s only means of livelihood.

Feedback: f_zindi@hotmail.com

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