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     Volume 6 Issue 18 | May 11, 2007 |

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Cover Story

Cheating the Musicians

Elita Karim

Thirty-three year old Rumman Haider, a PhD student in Tennessee and his wife Tasneem are spending their summer in Dhaka with their families. It's great to be back home; they have been missing the food, the traditional celebrations, not to mention products that they get to buy at very cheap prices, including movies and music. "We are having a field day!" says Rumman. "Both of us love Bangladeshi music. We actually buy hundreds of mp3s all in one CD from a nearby music store, something that we can never do back in the States." Deprived of "good and modern Bangladeshi music back in the States," Rumman buys a bunch of collections from a music store for his friends back at Tennessee, namely 'Best of Habib's', 'Moushumi Bhoumik mp3 Collection', 'Band Music Collection' and many more. These collections come in proper packaging, complete with glamorous pictures of the singers on the CD sleeves, though in reality these albums have been made illegally and in complete violation of an existing copyright law. Such pirated copies are produced, supplied and sold in a very disciplined manner every day in the country. The business in music piracy is extremely lucrative but it deprives the legitimate producers and more importantly, the musicians, their rightful earnings.

Industry sources and recent newspaper reports state that piracy has reached an unimaginable level in Bangladesh, where more than 95 percent of the CDs are pirated by music stores and individual salesmen, due to lack of proper legislation and enforcement of existing laws. "In fact, even law enforcers cannot make out the difference between an original and a fake," says Ershadul Huq Tinku, chief coordinator of Movement Against Piracy. Festivals and occasions like Eid, Valentine's Day, Pahela Baishakh are always targeted by various music companies in the country to release albums and launch new artistes. However, these albums end up getting uploaded on various websites for listeners to download and copied in various music outlets in the country. Very few customers can tell the difference between an original and a pirated copy.

Due to an increase in piracy, new and talented musicians are not given an opportunity to bring their music out into the market, says Naquib Khan, the founder member of Renaissance.

According to the dictionary meaning, piracy or pirating goods and products refers to hijacking on the high seas or taking a ship or plane away from the control of those who are legally entitled to it. It also refers to the act of plagiarising, i.e., taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own. According to the universal context and also the music industry in Bangladesh, to make a copy of a CD, whether the whole or just part of it for commercial use is piracy, or what used to be called at one time, bootlegging. However, to make a copy of ones' own music collection for personal use, or to make a custom mix of one's favourite songs from CDs one owns, is fair use.

Today, a lot of youngsters prefer converting music to the mp3 format, a popular digital audio encoding format. It is designed in such a way that it reduces the amount of data required to represent the audio recording. Even then, it sounds like a faithful reproduction of the original uncompressed audio to most listeners. Sajjad Mahboob, a 29-year-old businessman, keeps himself updated with the new trends of music in Bangladesh. Though he buys and listens to the latest albums of the young and the happening such as Black, Artcell, Cryptic Fate, Aurthothin and many more, he admits that he wouldn't mind buying a pirated copy of a 'Best of Aurthohin mp3 Collection' if it ever does emerge in any of the outlets. "This would give me a chance to listen to their music all the time, without resorting to buying all the albums," he says. "It's because, either you have to listen to a CD in your car or on your stereo system. Nowadays most listeners between the age group of 14 - 25 either use their personal computers to listen to music or they resort to mp3 players. Due to this technology, they either buy the CD and get it ripped (copied), borrow from their friends or download it from the net. They don't' mind compressing the sound quality of an original CD."

Music listeners buy the CD and get it ripped. They don't' mind compressing the sound quality of an original CD.

The Copyright Act, 2000 was updated on July 18, 2000. As compared to the earlier version of the law, the updated version includes many more conditions and categories relevant to the current situation in Bangladesh. For instance, along with the subsections, which mention reformation and duplication of texts, literature, theatre, music, the many forms of arts in any form illegal, new subsections have been added where piracy of computer programmes and software have been considered prohibited, in any form whatsoever (refer to Rahman, Gazi Shamsur, Minor Acts). Though the act is quite clear and there for everyone to see, it is far from being implemented in the country. Many do not even know that such a law even exists in Bangladesh.

Well-known musician Maqsood ul Haque of dHAKA, has been researching the issue of piracy in Bangladesh for several years. According to him, piracy can be broadly categorised under Industrial and Copyright Infringement. Industrial piracy refers to small or large companies duplicating foreign CDs, audio tapes, mp3s, DVDs or re-recording them, by using their own brand labels and inlays, and marketing them without the original company's permission. Industrial Piracy can also be categorised as piracy using newer re-recording technologies than what the market is used to. For instance, pirates started using CDs as a format long before the established players could get into the market with the software. As of now mp3 piracy is in vogue and nothing that can be done to stop them. Any future advancement in recording technology stands to open newer vistas for pirates. Downloads on 3G cell phones would be the next line of piracy to hit the market.

Eminent singer Fahmida Nabi believes that piracy will subside once there are proper and legal papers between a music company and an artiste.

The Copyright Infringement Piracy refers to recording artistes, musicians, producers copying or lifting off work of foreign artistes and passing them on as their own 'creation'. This violation comes directly within the purview of the Intellectual Property Right (IPR) and is considered a more serious offence than Industrial Piracy in more advanced countries. Unfortunately in Bangladesh this brand of piracy is more rampant and nobody seems interested to talk about it.

Naquib Khan, founding member of an established music group Renaissance, says that there are too many issues to deal with in Bangladesh regarding piracy. "Musicians end up suffering in the end," he says. "When a product is launched into the market, an investment is done and a certain amount of sale is expected. Because of duplication, naturally the investment incurs a huge amount of loss. In the case of music, consequently, new and talented musicians are not given an opportunity to bring their music out into the market, since the producers cannot put their business into risk." Once the albums come out, he adds, piracy is sure to occur in many forms, be it CD or cassette piracy or in the form of downloading mp3s. "Then what is the use? Out of the 10,000 copies of an album that have been sold, only 10 percent of the revenue belongs to the producer. The rest of it is all piracy."

Ershadul Haque Tinku, the chief co-ordinator of Movement Against Piracy.

Fahmida Nabi, a prominent singer, blames the music companies who bring out the CDs and promote musicians. "I am sorry to say but to date I have never witnessed a proper and legal contract taking place between a music company and an artiste," she says. "For years, certain producers have been judging the musicians and their music according to the general definition of popular music by the public. I have had producers refusing traditional music and compositions only because it did not sound 'popular' and similar to 'band music'. We should realise that there are many kinds of music where each has its own group of listeners and audience. We should not deprive a particular group for others, especially where traditional music and authenticity is concerned. There are also issues of royalty payment and monitoring of music sales, which also fall under the legal contract made between the company and the artiste. Once this contract is made properly and legally, piracy will subside by itself."

Earlier this year, the newly formed Movement Against Piracy (MAP) has been going around in the country, attacking piracy first hand. "We know that it is not possible to fight it this way," admits Ershadul Huq Tinku. "However, we had to see to what extent piracy was being practiced in the country first hand. We went to Comilla, Chittagong and Feni during our first inspection. There we spoke to many vendors and small time salesmen about piracy, taught them how to differentiate between the original and the fake CDs and products, where we also included the law enforcers. There was also a point where we burnt pirated CD s in public, since every time we gave the pirated products to the police of the local stations, they would just be returned back to the traders."

Most listeners are unable to differentiate between the originals and
the pirated copies.

The entertainment business in Bangladesh still has to go a long way to make itself accepted and recognised in society. The society at large is still ignorant of the legal transactions and exchanges involved. This may be one of the reasons as to why copying music or broadcasting it for commercial use is not considered a crime. It is only because that there is a demand for them that many outlets are driven to copy and sell duplicates or versions of the authentic products. Maqsood disagrees to such rationale, "The general masses actually know very little about the size of the market and how much it adds up in liquid revenue. An industry that is worth anywhere between 600 to 1000 crore taka is a huge industry. The present noise that we are hearing against piracy is because of the fact that the major players have by now realised how much they are going to lose out in the long run. It's up to them to clean up their act and bring them in general conformity with the rest of the world."

The current president of BAMBA, Hamin Ahmed from Miles says that according to the universal law, artistes all over the world register their material before they record, distribute and sell.

There are legal bodies in neighbouring India where the market for music and entertainment is more than tenfold of what it is in Bangladesh. These bodies monitor legal issues such as breach of contracts made between the company and the artiste, sale of albums, payment of royalty, illegal broadcasting and many more. "Organisations like The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) have been protecting the intellectual property of artistes and musicians world wide for many years," says Hamin Ahmed from Miles, also the current president of the Bangladesh Musical Bands Association (BAMBA). "In fact, apart from some countries in Asia including Bangladesh and some African countries, an artiste in any part of the world must register their material before they record, distribute and sell. In India they have such an organisation that is affiliated with both ASCAP and BMI where they protect the interests of their artistes or musicians in terms of securing their intellectual property right and royalties that may be due to them from any media, be it a record company, TV channels, radio stations and even live performances." Is it possible for a similar kind of an organisation to work in Bangladesh? "The good news is that something like this is already being constructed in Bangladesh and will start to operate soon," says Ahmed.

Nazmul Haque Bhuiyan of G-Series blames the government for not building a proper platform for musicians in the country.

Nazmul Haque Bhuiyan, popularly known as Khalid, the proprietor of G-series says that the Government also has a huge role to play in checking the level of piracy in the country. "The Government does not bother about artistes and thus does not bother to build any platform for these artistes to stand and build their career," he says. "There are many factors that come into being when we speak of piracy. Some of them are too detailed and intricate that people tend to ignore them." For instance, according to Khalid, the government has built experimental theatre halls to promote theatre, which is a good sign. "But what about music and musicians?" he asks. "We don't have proper venues or structures in the country where artistes can do live performances. Musicians in this country are always victimised in many ways and their contribution to art is always overlooked by the government."

Md. Zahidul Haque, station manager of Radio Foorti.

With the development of music in Bangladesh, radio and telecom companies are not far behind in promoting it. The advent of Radio Today, Radio Foorti, Radio Amar and a few more upcoming stations, artistes are getting the chance to promote their music. In fact, Radio Foorti started the airing of unreleased tracks after coming to agreements with respective artistes, much to the delight of music lovers. However, music companies in the country claim that playing music without proper and legal permission, is a kind of piracy as well. Even in foreign countries, where the radio culture is part and parcel of the music and entertainment industry, radio stations are given the right to play a certain composition for 3-5 months or more for free, after which they give a royalty of a standard amount every time the song is played to the music companies and the artistes. Both Shakil Monzur, the executive director and chief operating officer (COO) of Radio Today and Md. Zahidul Haque, the station producer of Radio Foorti, however claim that they simply did not know how to work with the royalty system since it is more complicated than it seems. "Initially, we did not even know how or who to pay the royalty to," says Zahid. "The legal royalty system is not implemented properly in the country. Where senior musicians keep the rights of their own music, in the case of junior musicians, the music companies tend to hold on to them. So when we play a certain composition belonging to a certain musician, we simply cannot go and pay a royalty to the music company. There are many more involved here, for instance, the songwriter, the musicians, the composer and so on. We are now coming into terms with several music companies, drawing up contracts and observing the legal issues. However, in that case the contract or the legal binding between the company and artiste has to be strong, where everything else will be based on."

Shakil Monzur, COO of Radio Today.

"We did try to get in touch with some of the music companies initially," says Monzur. "One particular company asked us to pay them a huge amount of money, which is not the standard amount for a royalty. I could have produced albums with this money instead of running a radio station! We are now drawing up contracts with the different companies in the country, however, they along with the radio stations have to work on this together and come up with a standard rate instead of announcing them randomly." He further adds that Radio Today is very positive about the royalty issue and wants an amicable solution through the participation of all stakeholders under the purview of the laws of the land.

The apparent conflict between radio stations and music companies, says Maqsood will eventually be sorted out. "I don't think the radios indulge in piracy as such," he says. "Indeed, quite the reverse, they are constantly playing music that creates demand, but what they ought to be very careful about, is playing unsolicited software. Also it is high time they thought about paying royalties to the artiste, which again has to be channelled to the artiste via the recoding label. Likewise I think it is time the TV channels cleaned up their act and thought about dishing out royalties on music and performance videos."

Downloading ring tones for their cell phones is a growing fad among young people these days. However, the tunes, which are being downloaded by the service users, are also a form of piracy, which is being practiced on a large scale. "There is a mushroom growth of companies claiming to provide ring-tones and other services, but they are mostly illegal," says Hamin Ahmed. "The situation therefore is going out of control. To make it worse, nobody really knows who owns what, including the artistes and musicians themselves who are actually the intellectual property right owners of all their creations. Sadly they are the ones who are the sufferers despite being the actual owners of their material."

A few months ago Feisal Siddiqi, popularly known as Bogey, CEO of Ektaar Music, sent a letter to all telecom companies providing these services through their content provider partners, stating that they were using copyrighted music without the copyright owners' consent. In response the telecom companies placed the onus on the content providers (CPs) while, needless to say, the telecoms remain the primary earners and the biggest players behind mobile content. For each download of a ring-tone the telecoms charge up to Tk.17.5, a small portion of which is allocated to the CPs. Very few of the CPs have bothered to legally gain mobile distribution rights from the owners of copyrighted material. Those who have, apportion between 16-20% of their income to the copyright owner (usually the producer or label). In all of this the artiste, or the songwriter, the main creator of the content, has the least share, if any at all.

Maqsood ul Haque of dHAKA predicts downloads on 3G cell phones to be next in line of piracy to hit the market.

"The fact is that there is a copyright law in Bangladesh which everyone chooses to ignore and not implement," explains Bogey. "According to this law, royalty should be given to the owner of the authentic piece of music, which has been remade after a certain period of time. In fact, royalty should be given not only to the musician, but also to the songwriter. Since the law is not implemented in our country, no one is aware of the intricacies involved here." He further states that the telecoms cannot evade their responsibility to double-check the legal rights for distribution of operating CPs as they are generating revenue on their behalf. Since these telecom companies are multinational corporations, they are legally bound to adhere to the standard international codes but instead they are plundering assets (musical assets, in this case) that in reality belong to the Bangladeshi artiste and to the copyright owner.

Feisal Siddiqi Bogey, an eminent musician and the CEO of Ektaar Music says that it is high time the copyright law is implemented and followed in Bangladesh

The General Manager, Information Department of Grameenphone, Syed Yamin Bakht says that no such complaint reached him. "When Grameenphone provides contents under its own brand, we make sure that the content providers of these contents comply with the laws of the land,” he explains. “As for the other content providers who are providing contents under their own brand using our platform, we have strictly stated that they are liable for the contents. If any complaint against any such content provider is received, we immediately take action and remove such contents. These complaints should be made to these independent content providers as they are responsible for the content they are providing.”

However, according to sources, the letter of complaints did reach the telecom companies, thereby pushing them to ask for certain documents and papers from the content providers to make sure that the music that they were providing via the telecom companies to download are legal. For instance, Intekhab Mahmud, the chief commercial officer of Citycell says that the telecom is now drawing up contracts with the music companies and artistes respectively. "It is actually the duty of the content providers to draw up contracts and get the proper permission," says Mahmud. "However, we now demand that the content providers provide us with all the necessary papers and documents before approving of the tunes that they provide for the service users."

The music of any nation encompasses its very soul that evolves with the times yet retaining the uniqueness of each culture. The Bangladeshi music scene has been blessed with a treasure of music traditions that thrive through generations thanks to talented, dedicated artistes. Recognition, in the form of financial compensation, has been a struggle for most musicians. Unless artistes are aptly recognised for their invaluable contribution to our culture, fewer new talents will emerge and existing ones will find it hard to survive. Music piracy, which deprives artistes of royalties, should be seen as a disease that must be cured.



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