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We can tackle music piracy

Most pirates and compact discs (CD) street vendors are reaping from where they did not sow and this practice is frustrating a lot of musicians.

in the groove with Fred Zindi

Online piracy
Online piracy

With the coming in of CDs, which replaced vinyl records, this new technology has brought with it many challenges for established record companies. Internet ubiquity has allowed music fans to download and share music freely. This new technological development has spawned a new danger as anyone can download music from platforms such as YouTube or iTunes and start to burn CDs. Alternatively, the pirates can buy just one CD and duplicate it a thousand times over.

Although the technology has made it easier for musicians to become independent, there is a big threat which has been brought to the fore. This is the threat of music piracy. The pirates now find it easier to reproduce and sell recorded music which does not belong to them.

Street vendors often sell pirated CDs wrapped in transparent cellophane sleeves, which make it obvious that their CDs are not original material. However, some of 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.

Musicians who were used to receiving royalties for their recordings from record companies can no longer stomach the advent of music piracy which came with the digital revolution since this affects their income.

Music piracy is an ever-growing problem. During the festive period, many artists such as Jah Prayzah, Killer T, Sulumani Chimbetu, Oliver Mtukudzi and Alick Macheso had their works pirated and sold at $1 each or even less.

This practice gives rise to the need for artists to take matters into their own hands. There is good reason for an altercation between top Zimbabwean artists, street vendors and the police. Artists should now call for a better management system of their products and stricter control over counterfeiting and piracy. This should lead to the reform of the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (Chapter 26:1).

I was fascinated by the remarks made by Gondo (2012), who described the piracy phenomenon as follows: “The ubiquity of low-priced pirated CDs and DVDs on the Zimbabwean streets is the new gorilla that is eating the artist’s lunch.”

As a response to these technological developments, in October 2011 the Zimbabwe Association of Recording Industries (Zari) introduced a “budget CD and DVD”, ( Vhori, 2012). The music industry began to tout the product’s
authenticity and high quality for the same price as the pirated products which are of variable quality. When it comes to distribution, Zari contends the budget CDs and DVDs will be available to all music retail shops and flea markets as well as main Zimpost offices. However, Gondo (2012) argues that while these outlets certainly make sense, they are not sufficient because the pervasiveness of CD/DVD vendors on every pavement and street intersection surely is far more convenient for consumers. Zari is essentially trying to replace the pirate. As great as this move to embrace technology is, it will not solve revenue loss from CD/DVDs. Historically, the prices of original CDs have been much higher than the standard $1/unit pirate price, but the philosophy of “if you can’t beat them, join them” has resulted in compromised “profits”.

The migration to a standard/fixed price model in the music business is not unique to Zimbabwe. It is also found in East Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Apple pioneered the model through its iTunes store. iTunes introduced a 99c/song price for any and every song in its store.

Gondo (2012) contends that though this price was agreed to by the music industry (basically the major US labels:

Warner Music, Universal, Sony and EMI) it represented more of a ceasefire than a truce in the digital music wars.
However, instead of a ceasefire, more drastic measures need to be put in place if musicians are to make real profits from their sweat.

The first measure is to amend the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (Chapter 26.1)

There is need for stricter control over counterfeiting and piracy. If a cattle rustler can be sentenced to nine years imprisonment, why can’t a similar penalty be imposed upon music thieves?

Organisations such as Aripo, Zimura, Zimbabwe Union of Musicians, Zimcops, Customs and Excise, ZRP and other copyright protection societies as well as politicians need to get together to enforce an amendment of the Copyright Act. These organisations should set up an action committee. If that happens, there is hope of protecting the artists’ works against piracy.

Aripo and Zimura can assist in monitoring copyright infringement, while Zimcops need to obtain contracts between artists and genuine CD manufacturing companies.

Customs and Excise should be allowed to detain all imported recorded music and blank CDs pending clearance from Zimcops. This way, the government will also benefit. After all, Zimbabwe’s revenue comes from strict customs’ practice.

Amendment to the Copyright Act should include penalties for buyers of pirated copies. This offence was not punishable before but a law already exists which allows the police to arrest anyone who buys stolen property. All pirated CDs are stolen property. This is where the police should come in, just like they do to assist ZBC to collect radio licence fees. They should be empowered to effect arrests and prosecute pirates and all those members of the public who buy pirated CDs from the streets.

The government should also assist artists by ensuring that all those who use music for commercial purposes such as ZBC, ZiFM, Star FM, hotels and restaurants pay a fee for the use of music.

When the amendments to the Copyright Act have been finalised and the Action Committee is expected to function properly, singers, musicians and producers should expect that piracy will be a thing of the past. We can tackle music piracy. Yes we can!


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