22 October 2017

Zimbabwe: Ruthless Music Pirates At It Again

opinion

On October 13, I came out of the Jah Prayzah album launch at approximately 4am playing my favourite track number four Chengetedza in my car.

This was the first time I had physically touched the CD after the album launch. I was convinced that this time around, Jah Prayzah had been smart enough to defeat the pirates since the album was released on the night of the launch, which meant that no one had a copy of it before this date.

However, the next morning at around 10, I was approached by a street vendor at a shopping centre who called out, "Mdhara, here is a brand new Kutonga Kwaro! Just released! Original! Only one dollar Mdhara!" I told him that I had already purchased a copy at the launch, but I was disgusted and began asking myself the question, "How did the pirates get it out so quick?"

It's just not fair. I saw Jah Prayzah working so hard to put this album together. The countless number of hours that went into rehearsals and recording of that work do not deserve this kind of treatment from the pirates. Someone must have been watching proceedings during the launch with eagle eyes waiting to legally snap up the first copy of the album for $5 so that he could rush to copy it. I don't think that he even waited for the launch to end before he rushed to make duplicates of the album.

At mid-day on the same Saturday, a friend called me from Bulawayo to tell me that the album was also on the streets there. What a shame!

Music piracy has resulted in a major shift in the way music artists actually make a living. The paradigm used to be that musicians made money from selling albums, then tours were to promote the new album so people would buy it. Nowadays the inverse is true -- you make money from touring, and releasing an album is a way to encourage people to come to your shows.

In the past, records were made on vinyl and could not be duplicated without the use of expensive machines and materials which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today, in the digital age, with a simple computer which has a CD writer (CD-WR), one can download or copy music easily.

Programmes such as Morpheus, Kazaa or Limewire are used for stealing music. This kind of technology is bad for the struggling musician as it enables the pirates to easily copy the musician's music without paying for it. Added to this system, one can understand why the music industry wants to eliminate these abilities.

Essentially, a user with the right equipment can become his own music store and never have to buy another album again.

Indeed, Jah Prayzah did his best by releasing the album on the night of the launch in order to minimise his losses, but that did not eliminate piracy as the evidence is there for everyone to see.

Given the current situation in music and consumer technology industries, one must ask the following ethical questions:

lWhat obligation or responsibility do the makers of these technologies such as Kazaa and Limewire have to preserving copyrights?

lIs it right to ban or restrict the technology industry so that the music industry can protect its earnings?

Given the digital tools available in Zimbabwe today, one can quickly see that once the tools are gathered, you can create a CD with all your favourite songs for less than a dollar. By using the CD-RW drive, you can copy a CD. A pirate (i.e. one who copies work with illegal intent) can simply reproduce hundreds of CDs exactly as they are and sell them.

The issue of protecting music involves a balance between the artist, the copyright holder, the consumer, and the public good. This is based on the intent of the copyright, which is to protect the right for artists to reap the benefits of their labour while allowing the public to benefit and build upon the work.

I have had several debates with street vendors and producers of illegal pirated music. I have asked them to give reasons why they violate musicians' copyright by duplicating and selling music which does not belong to them. Their answers are the same most of the time and can be summed up by the following statements: "Jah Prayzah drives expensive cars, but look at us, we are poor.

That is his way of giving back to the community without us asking him. Rifles, knives, axes and other dangerous weapons are not banned but they are used to commit evil. Therefore, the much less harmless music duplication technology should not be banned either. There is no evil involved in CD duplication."

The music industry can fairly expect an entitlement to some regulation in order to protect their copyrights. There is a well-established balance between the artist and copyright holder with the property owner and the social good. As long as copyrights can be respected, artists and the companies that sponsor their efforts must be rewarded fairly in order to promote artistic development. The music industry can ethically ask for regulation to be imposed on the technology industry that facilitates music piracy.

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. Not only vendors should be arrested, but also the people who purchase these illegal CDs as they 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.

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.

This undermines the earning capacity of the originators of this music.

Needless to mention that 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 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 against 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, not much can be done to stop the stealing of music. The law enforcers might come and arrest those involved, but the current 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 diamond-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, 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.

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