Pirates on the virtual boat

Music theft

Pirates on the virtual boat

When Jacob wants to sing along to the latest hits, he does what everyone else does: pirates it. It is quick and free, so he does not think twice. But Shaun Klet, founder of the webzine ‘Indian Music Mug’, wonders how people can spend Rs 200 on fast food but not Rs 10 on music. To him, such actions demonstrate disrespect for the artiste.

To researchers at the Indian Music Industry (IMI), an association of music companies, Jacob is a small part of the statistical big picture: piracy costs the Indian industry an estimated Rs 450 crores each year. While such statistics are difficult to quantify, some estimate that only two to seven per cent of music downloads in India are legal, saddling the country with one of the highest rates of music piracy in the world.

But the issue is more nuanced for some like Kitty, a PU student who uses Torrents to listen to older artistes. “Most of the bands I listen to have broken up, so I don’t feel ‘bad’ downloading their albums for free,” she says, although she buys CDs whenever possible. Becky says that purchasing music either requires a credit card or iTunes access, and she has neither. For her, Torrents are convenient.

Ashwin Alexander, drummer for the Bengaluru-based band ‘Grey Matter’, points out that Torrents provide access to music that is not readily available in India. However, he believes consumers should understand that piracy deprives artistes, sound engineers, studios and others of compensation for their creative efforts. “It’s not just illegal, it’s immoral considering the emotion and effort that goes into making art,” he says.

Ranjan, from the Bengaluru-based site ‘Music Malt’, points out that most middle-class consumers are able to pay for music, but “they think Rs five to 10 for a song is a big deal”. Shaun agrees, “I’ve talked with bands who think they should just play live instead of making new music because they don’t earn enough.”

Some bands are happy as long as their music gains exposure. But Ashwin says that this decision should be left to the artistes. Abishek Malhotra, a lawyer and managing partner at TMT Law Practice, blames the problem partly on widespread cultural acceptance of piracy. “People need to understand that piracy is simply stealing,” he argues.

Currently, music is protected under the Copyright Act. Punishment includes imprisonment for up to three years and fines between Rs 50,000 to 2 lakhs. According to Abishek, enforcement is sporadic, depending on the zeal of the local police or the efforts of music companies. The IMI, for example, has successfully prosecuted several illegal sites, but only after extended lobbying. He adds that there needs to be a clear demarcation of who legally owns the creative content.

Solutions could lie in a combination of better law enforcement and efforts to make music both legal and affordable. In the West, music piracy significantly reduced when people had an alternative: online music streaming sites. With the growth of sites like ‘Wynk’ and ‘Saavn’, there is some hope for similar results in India. “The only way to fight piracy is to make music readily available,” says a spokesperson for ‘Saavn’. All these sites offer online streaming for free and have premium services that allow users to download music.

Artistes are paid a royalty based on downloads and the number of plays per track. These sites have millions of users, suggesting that many will eschew piracy if given affordable options. Still, affordable is no competition for free. ‘Disrespect’ to artistes does not matter to Andrew, a college student. “I would continue to torrent despite online streaming sites,” he says, explaining that he values convenience more. Abishek encourages better licensing processes, which would allow currently illegal sites to provide legal music and better awareness of existing protocols. But ultimately, Ranjan believes that piracy eradication
requires a change in mentality.

“Listeners have to take responsibility,” he says.

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