Unpacking piracy in Zim

HARARE - On Friday, September 14, this writer was summoned to the Harare Central Police Station to witness the incineration of what was estimated to be over 260 000 tapes, CD’s, DVD’s in the latest anti-piracy operation.  

The operation was overseen by the minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, and witnessed by senior police staff, the CID sector of the police force, members of the Zimbabwe Musical Arts Industry, APOZ, Zimbabwe Association of Recording Industries Zari members of the press and various members of the public.

The operation which is dubbed the “Hundred Days Operation Anti-Piracy Blitz” began in April, with the first batch of pirated material which was seized, being burnt on April 5 2012.
close to 100 000 CD’s and DVD’s worth an estimated $200 000 were destroyed.  

Earlier on, on Monday, January 17, 2011, APOZ and the ZRP destroyed close to 60 000 copies of pirated CD’s and DVD’s at Harare Central Police Station.  

That year, on the 8th April, superintendent Andrew Phiri said, “We as the police have the mandate to enforce law and order in the country.”  

Indicating that according to the superintendent the police do not tolerate piracy.

These figures prove that the police operations are futile as the figure continue to escalate.  

On Friday, Harare Province commanding officer licence inspectorate Joel Tenderere reiterated “Piracy is against the law, and there is need for cooperation from the public who are aware that pirated DVDs and CDs are being manufactured in many private homes of Harare’s high density suburbs”.

According to world statistics on piracy, Zimbabwe has the second-highest level of piracy in the world; Outdone only by Republic of Georgia.  

The international Business Software Alliance (BSA) reported that 92 percent of software in Zimbabwe between the years 2009 to the present is pirated.  

Worldwide statistics have noted that one third of pirated international CDs and DVDs are imported from China.

Suffice to say one in every three musical and film discs purchased around the world today is an illegal copy.  

At the behest of the government’s “look East” policy, Zimbabwe has become a dumpsite and insatiable market for third-rate pirated and inferior Chinese products at the expense of our own industries.
Downloading, uploading, skypeing, burning, posting and even attending or watching full concerts on a website has become common practice amongst musical audiences around the world.  

Zimbabwe is party to these illegal felonious shenanigans.

Various socio-economic factors have contributed to this scourge.

The introduction of flea markets in the early 1990’s provided an open illegal channel for vendors to flog illegal tapes, which originated from South Africa, Tanzania and DRC.  

Some of the tapes are introduced into the country by the many Kwasa-Kwasa, and Ndombolo musical groups that swarmed into the country swamping the local musical industry.
Zimbabweans had not foreseen the calamitous consequences of this invasion, preferring to revel in the novelty, without the foresight of its consequential effects on the music industry, the local artistes’ livelihood and the resultant loss of revenue earnings for the government.

Media, Information and Publicity minister, Webster Shamu earlier in the year said, “piracy is a direct threat to the survival of the entire arts industry.  

“It represents direct losses to individuals and companies who innovatively create and produce arts products. It results in loss of earnings to the artists and recording companies, loss of jobs for employees, loss of revenue to the government and ultimately, loss of motivation to the artists.”

Yet the scourge continues unabated — as is evident throughout the city’s overcrowded pavements.

Today, most Chinese and Nigerian trinket shops in Harare’s CBD and other satellite cities peddle pirated copies of international, African and Bollywood music and movies, unhindered by the law — which purports to be aware of this dilemma.  

The piecemeal raids and minor operations are by and large futile fear-mongering exercises by the police, that soon wears off once the dust has settled.

No sooner had I witnessed the ritual burning of the merchandise, I walked into a stream of vendors barely 20 metres away from Harare Central Police Station.  

For statistics’ sake I counted the number of vendors from Angwa Street and Robert Mugabe to 4th Street.
They amounted to 473 vendors, each with an estimated 50 CD’s and DVD’s.  

Simple mathematics will prove that the discs burnt were a little anthill compared to Kilimanjaro mountain — the exercises amount to nothing!

Speaking to the Sungura doyen Alick Macheso, whilst witnessing the destruction of the discs, he concurred and said, “Mudzimba umu mune gomo re mudhindirwa” — there are little factories that are recording and burning DVD replicas of our music on their computers. This is only a small anthill of CD’s”.  

Referring to the heap of incinerating materials which were estimated to be 260 000, worth well over a quarter million dollars.  

He continued, “In most suburbs from Seke, Chitungwiza, Highfield, Kambuzuma, Mufakose, to Avondale, Mabelreign and Borrowdale, and in most flea markets, there are more pirated CD’s and DVDs, yet to be discovered.”  

Piracy is depriving him of an income and every little room in town that has a computer people are burning his music.  

He said whilst pointing to a heap of burning material — “One can make a Top-Ten chart list of Zimbabwe’s most pirated CDs”.

This writer noticeably observed Alick Macheso’s “Zvinoda Kutendwa, Kapfupi’s Juice Card, Tongai Moyo’s Toita Basa, The Charamba’s PaNgoma PaHosho, Nicholas Zakaria’s Ruveneko and Winky-D’s Musarova Biggie Man, as perhaps the most pirated CDs.

The latest fine of $50 for pirating and selling copyrighted material is not deterrent enough; nor is the 210 hours of community service stipulated for the offence.  

It has been found that the culprits are both male and female Zimbabweans aged between 21 to 35, and even older who are guilty of this criminal act.  

Despite the fact that Zimbabwean Association of Recording Industries (Zari) in October, 2011 introduced and availed affordable CDs and DVDs, by cutting the cost of packaging, this did not deter the perpetrators and the problem did not go away.  

Zari’s products were selling for a maximum of two dollars for a CD and $4 for a DVD in unbranded packaging.

The president of Zari Emion Sibindi assumed “The arrangement of supplying both standard and low-priced CDs and DVDs give a choice to music buyers” — it did not work.  

Zari is an association comprising most reputable Zimbabwean recording studios such as Gramma Records, ZMC and Metro Studios, they too, are feeling the gnaw of piracy.  

The welfare of Zimbabwean artistes continues to be affected so much so that some young musicians are pirating their own music as a means of earning money daily, rather than awaiting royalties from record companies.

Whilst it is assumed that piracy thrives due to the official prohibitive pricing of the recorded materials, some artistes argue that the sale of more volumes is what will compensate for the low cost of their CD’s.  

Others erroneously believe “The economic benefits of copyright law are in conflict with the shared nature of African culture….”  

This school of thought notes that the economic benefits of copyright are built on the Western notion of controlling expression, whilst the Afro-centric socio-cultural benefits of copyright are based upon sharing expressions — and therefore do not see any harm in burning their brothers’ music.  

It is plain however, that most young Zimbabwean urban groovers, are themselves downloading international musician’s copyrighted material and branding it as their own.  

ZBC who should be cognisant of copyright laws are not without blame in this issue for airing this material.

As we can see from the raids copyright laws on paper are beginning to be implemented on the ground as the law takes pragmatic steps.  

However, in some quarters the comprehensive understanding of copyright is totally lost through ignorance.  
Many local musicians have the added problem of understanding the claims of ownership of musical compositions.  

Some cite and question the distribution of ownership rights in instances where song writer, vocalist and instrumentalist collaborate on a piece of music.  

These debates centred on who owns the copyright should be aired and discussed more fully, in both the electronic and print media.  

Knowledgeable and erudite members of the music fraternity, police force, arts and legal experts, should be summoned to continually discuss copyright issues in a clear concerted strategy to educate the masses. - Tonderayi Zvimba

*Tonderayi Zvimba is an eminent arts, music, fashion and cultural consultant/writer. He works from Cape Town and Harare.

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