Thursday, November 30, 2023

Music piracy – is the risk worth it?

I went shopping with my wife and as usual I remained in the car while she did her shopping. I just find waiting in the car while I listen to music very soothing and highly enjoyable. Besides, that is the time I get to explore some sound I have not heard before or just a new CD I might have not checked earlier. In one of the many visits to the mall, I was confronted by about 6 gentlemen selling pirated copies of both the music CDs and DVDs in a space of about 15 minutes. My initial thoughts after the first 2 were that it was soon going to be over and I could go about my business.

The third came and then the fourth and with every subsequent attempted sale it appeared every one of them was brave enough to risk being arrested. I think the fifth guy was an interesting character because I asked him where he got his stock from and what evidence he had that the product he was selling was legal?

‘Don’t worry!’ He exclaimed. And before I could follow up my question with the next one, he already had a comeback line for me: ‘I will give you 4 for the price of 2.’ This man was already bargaining and he was least concerned with my line of questioning. Let alone that my questions did suggest that I might be an off-duty police officer. In any case, everything about our exchange just suggested I was not going to be buying anything and I think he finally realised that I was not interested. Then he moved on.

I honestly thought that was it for the day until the sixth guy came approaching the car. Fortunately, my wife rescued me from the situation by coming into the car and we left before he reached us. On the way I could not help but started to think about this little experience. The first major part is that these pirates operate openly in public spaces and without fear. Secondly, which is by far the scary part, is how many of the It Has To Be Jazz® project CDs have actually been duplicated and are circulating freely out there?

In the majority of cases that I have seen the police actually taking action, the charge is largely for not being in possession of a vendor’s licence. And what actually happens is that they only take the stock. I am yet to see someone being charged for music piracy. In actual fact, I Googled to establish if there are any cases, past or present, that have reached the courts or the justice system. Guess what, there is only one or two but with major distributors and none of the small street vendors are mentioned. The immediate question is: where is the most damage? Is it among the major distributors or the small vendor by the corner? Without the statistics to prove my point, it is difficult to establish where the bulk of the problem lies. However, there are so many of these vendors and it just scares the living daylights out of me.

So, why are these street vendors willing to risk it all? A search for the truth is not that simple because there are a lot of dynamics at play. One of the legal vendors licenced by the council to sell vegetables just laughed when I asked her. In her response she just said that the confiscated stock costs nothing because if they sold about 5 CDs a day, they would have covered the cost of printing the next stock or batch of CDs or DVDs. She then finished with an interesting yet shocking statement: ‘Besides, no one has ever gone to jail or got fined. It is a minor offence not worth taking to court!’

With my eyes almost bulging out of their sockets, I was thinking to myself:

‘How can this be classified as a minor offence?’

‘Does this woman know what it costs to come up with a recording?’

‘Artists fees?’

‘Studio fees?’



‘Impact on artists royalties because the music ends up at locations that are not covered or even monitored by royalties’ collectors?’

It just killed me to imagine that the only risk for vendors is reduced to a loss of stock which can be easily recovered at a fraction of a price of a CD over the counter in a proper outlet. One should not ignore the bigger part of the problem and that is the printers and suppliers to these illegal vendors. I am not a lawyer by profession but it would be interesting to establish under which law they should be charged.

I am quite sure that the sale of pirated music is an old problem because I remember seeing that happen overseas as far back as 1986. But the fact that it has reached Africa, does it not deserve any attention?

So, why did this article make the It Has To Be Jazz® project review? I guess one could say it is one of those emotional subjects now that I know and fully appreciate the extent of the damage music piracy causes. Yes, I agree it is also more of venting and sympathy taking into consideration the hardworking musicians who wake up every day to try and make ends meet. Next time you buy a pirated copy of music on CD or DVD, remember your contribution to a musician’s demise.


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