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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Musicians Balam (left) and Hamin Ahmed (right) perform in separate shows. Most of the artistes in Bangladesh are facing enormous financial difficulties due to uncontrolled piracy.
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Neelim, 17 years old and a student of Holy Cross College, Dhaka, lifts her phone to the sound of Balam's latest hit, 'ek mutho roddur', (A sunny day): “I really like this tune and it's fun to hear it each time the telephone rings.”

'It's a way of expressing my identity and taste,' she adds.

In a country where the music industry is estimated to be losing around Tk 120 crore every year due to uncontrolled audio piracy, at last artistes have found a way to earn some money.

But it will take a lot of ring tones to provide a healthy livelihood for musicians in Bangladesh. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which represents the recording industry worldwide, around 85 percent of domestic music sales are pirated copies for which the recording companies and the artistes receive nothing.

In the case of international artistes the rate jumps to 100 percent. This compares with a worldwide audio piracy average of around 33 percent.

Moreover, due to what the IFPI describes as a “total lack” of legal enforcement, the situation is getting worse.

“The large pirated market results in artistes, producers and studios getting victimised, and the government loses revenue as well,” said Khaled Bhuiyan, owner of G-series, the country's prominent audio producing company.

“Artistes are deprived of their royalties as their songs are being pirated, that results in huge insecurity,” said Hamin Ahmed, president of Bangladesh Musical Bands Association (BAMBA).

“Because of this, most of the artistes in Bangladesh are facing enormous financial difficulties, especially when they get older or they have an accident,” he added.

In many cases, even once well known names need to rely on charity shows to raise funds for them.

Industry sources said Bangladesh imports around half a million blank CD-Rs a month from China and Taiwan, most of which are used for piracy. According to the IFPI, there are now around 60 CD-R duplicating facilities operational in Bangladesh. These copy music or film onto the blank discs.

However while CD-Rs dominate for foreign copies Bengali songs are usually copied using the mp3 format. The mp3 disc includes at least 180 songs and downloading songs is cheap.

“Piracy discourages the audio producers from paying royalties for each copy of audiocassettes and CDs sold,” told Khaled Bhuiyan, owner of G-series. “For securing business audio producers pay the artistes on a one-time basis,” he added.

Balam is currently one of the country's most popular rock artistes and he has to accept the one off payment. “Many times artistes are scared about getting royalties on selling albums per copy, as they may not get anything,” he said.

Balam also attacked the recently opened FM radio stations, as they do not give royalty to the artistes and often fail to announce the artiste's name before playing a song.

“That's why most of the artistes have to be satisfied with being paid 'onetime', where in developed countries artistes receive an amount as lifetime royalty,” said Balam.

A senior official at Radio Today, seeking anonymity, said they'd think about the issue if any panel of artistes claim royalty from them.

In theory artistes and producers do have legal protection. According to the Copyright law 2000, piracy is the violation of copyright and duplication of audiocassettes and CDs, records, screenplay and painting without giving royalty to the artistes. In 2005 the law was amended and extends its area to some new technologies, such as mp3 and free music downloading sites on the internet.

The new law also extends the range of punishment and the amount of penalty up to Tk 5 lakh and 5 years in jail. But in the absence of government's proper monitoring and law enforcer's lack of interest, piracy is in reality an unpunished crime.

A senior police official seeking anonymity said in 2007 around 40 people were arrested on the charge of piracy, but none of them were convicted seriously. The law has some short falling for taking action against piracy, he added.

Another loser is the government as pirate markets need not to pay a range of VAT and tax, including income and studio tax.

Of course while the situation in Bangladesh may be extreme, the country is not alone in suffering from music piracy. The mass penetration of the internet in Europe, North America and some parts of Asia means millions of young people have grown up downloading music for free. In an effort to deal with this legal web sites such as Apple's iTunes have been established.

In Bangladesh Amadergaan claims to be the only music portal legally allowed to download Bengali songs. The website was launched in 2002 aimed at creating a community to discuss Bangladeshi music over the net. In 2005, it became the country's first legal online music shop.

According to Faysal Islam, managing director of Amadergaan, the objective of the site is to promote Bangladeshi music to 'anyone, anywhere & anytime'.

“It was a step much needed to form our view, as we believed that this will eventually help our music and the industry. It has received great support from the musicians themselves and fans in Bangladesh,” said Faysal.

“It was a kind of responsibility for us to move our music forward into the digital age,” he added.

Pirating of Bangladeshi music through the internet has been defended as a way of giving artistes 'promotion' and of stopping 'greedy' record labels exploiting artistes, since royalties to artistes, especially new ones are at a bare minimum, Faysal said.

But he rejected these arguments and said that a working partnership between a record company and an artiste is of mutual benefit. “One can't survive without the other.”

“Piracy will lead to the eventual extinction of our music culture and will be very dangerous for the Bangladeshi music industry, as there is no infrastructure to tackle and minimise the effect of piracy,” said Faysal.

Faysal said Amadergaan will continue to fight piracy and the best way is to educate fans about the whole issue, as well as rally on with the support of the musicians.

“But piracy on the internet will never be stopped and we feel that it is ultimately people's choice to decide which path they want to take,” he added.

Amadergaan charges US$ 1 for a CD and is a self-financed media company based in Bangladesh and Canada. But recent evidence seems to show it is facing an uphill battle.

Amadergaan sold just 280 CDs last year. At the same time when G-series released an album and posted it online free of charge, 27,000 copies were downloaded in a single day.

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