March 29, 2020
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The Counterfeit Threat

The industry tries to crack down on audio pirates, who have secured 40 per cent of the market

The Counterfeit Threat

THE comparison tells the tale. In the $12 billion US music market, the share of pirated recordings is a mere 5 per cent. In the Indian music market, which has been marked by phenomenal growth and is estimated at Rs 825 crore, a staggering 40 per cent of the audio products are illegally manufactured and marketed. And the country ranks third behind China and Mexico in terms of the pirates' share in the industry.

For the legitimate music companies that are registered under the Indian Music Industry (IMI), the facts and figures present a disturbing reality. Yet, while endeavours to stop the pirates continue, each lawfully published cassette belonging to a 'vulnerable' category like popular film music is being blissfully duplicated and sold. In fact, industry estimates suggest that the domestic music market includes 100-120 million pirated cassettes.

In a well-planned strategy against the pirates, HMV, which has been the single largest sufferer owing to the nature and size of its repertoire, has launched cassettes of old film songs at a nominal price. But as Chander M. Lall, a legal adviser to the IMI, points out: "Even in many of the big shops, both the originals as well as fakes sell. We have discovered that in the process of raiding several shops." The element of risk not withstanding, the escapades of pirates refuse to end. As Lall adds: "The profit margin is just too much for the culprits, so they cannot disappear overnight. Moreover, the process of duplicating is very simple. One can buy a couple of sophisticated duplicating machines, which generate a fake copy every two minutes." The pirate doesn't have to pay royalty to the singer, the lyricist or the music director—these being taken care of by the legitimate music companies who are responsible for the origin of sonic software. All they need are some blank cassettes and a few basic gadgets like a duplicating machine, which can be bought for around Rs 25,000. On a Sony machine, for example, recordings can be generated at the rate of 35 tapes per minute. Once this is done, the route to the mart is smooth.

In India's music market, which appears to be organised in small pockets but is actually utterly chaotic, the IMI's role has been quite significant in recent times. As Pavan Malhotra, HMV's manager (product development), says: "With a more active IMI putting up a strong fight against piracy, apart from steps taken by the legitimate industry, the situation is improving. But one cannot deny that a lot of hard work is needed to eradicate piracy, so that the legitimate music industry earns a comfortable margin." Most of the music categories the pirates prey upon are easy to identify. By far the most visible fakes are of current motion picture soundtracks. Then there is the category in which old film hits are marketed with new voices, and disco beats to go along with at times. The third category belongs to the 'top 10' numbers, an area where the pirates have a distinct edge over legitimate music companies because the rights of 'top 10' tracks does not rest with one company alone. The pirate just has to take two hits from one company, three from the second, a couple from the third and fourth companies, and apply a streets-mart mix-and-match formula to come up with his own compilation.

Another lucrative genre is religious soundtracks which are compiled by selecting bhajans from different motion pictures. Then, in the larger towns, there are international soundtracks—the kind that enable one to have access to everything right from Donna Summer to David Crosby. Yet another category is created by mixing several tracks to spawn soundtracks for nonstop dancing. This is the only pirated type that requires individual effort and enterprise, but the returns are tempting and can go up to Rs 250 per cassette.

To check and how to check—that is the problem faced by the IMI as it continues to monitor operations and conduct raids against the pirates within the country. In fact, the organisation is going about its activities methodically. In 1994-95, for instance, raids were conducted at the hideouts of several pirates in Mumbai, Delhi, Indore, Ahmedabad, Pune, Hyderabad, Punjab and Haryana. About 12 million inlay cards were recovered. About 90 duplicating machines were tracked down in Delhi alone, while an additional 50 were acquired from the manufacturers of fake audio tapes in Punjab and Haryana.

In the IMI's anti-piracy operations in October 1996, 23 raids were conducted in which 18 duplicating machines were seized and 28,100 fake cassettes were confiscated. The organisation's team in Punjab raided 13 places in a single day, which resulted in 11 arrests and a seizure of 12,065 cassettes. In Jodhpur, four raids resulted in the seizure of 4,500 cassettes and machines capable of producing 1,080 cassettes per hour between them. In two raids in New Delhi, gadgets were recovered which could produce 17,400 cassettes a day or five crore tapes a year.

Another recent raid in a shop in Delhi's Chandni Chowk led to the discovery of nine gunny bags full of pirated compact discs apart from audio cassettes worth Rs 5 lakh. All through the operation, the shopkeeper was a portrait of stubborn denial. The reason for his composure: his confidence that the fakes, since secure behind a shop's walls, were beyond the raider's reach.

As Lall observes, the pirate's job has been made somewhat uncomfortable after the amendment to the Copyright Act came into force in May 1995. Adds Bindu Bedi Chib, a lawyer for the music industry involved in the fight against piracy: "There has been increasing governmental support because the entire effort needs to be institution-alised. The Government has been effective in mobilising the police, which includes training policemen for this specific purpose." The result: cassettes that are phenomenal money-spinners are relatively secure from the clutches of the pirate. But, then there's the unquestionable flip side to the matter. Those who have a duplicating machine, and want to reproduce a big hit before it is reduced to obscurity, just go ahead and do it.

Besides, there are no tough legal provisions against pirates in India. For example, under French law anybody convicted of piracy is not allowed to sell the product for five years. "During those years," as Lall says, "it is possible that one's attitude towards the entire business will change." In India, a former fruit seller, who lived off piracy once and flourishes off it today, can return to the business of faking tapes after disowning cassettes with his company's brand name that were seized after a raid.

Chib suggests a remedy: "As far as many other cases in the court are concerned, the burden of proof has shifted to the accused. If this were to happen in the case of music piracy, the cases in the court can be expedited." Luckily for the pirate, he is innocent until proven guilty, which can be a tough task for the legitimate music companies.

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