Copyright © 2002 Terry Joseph
Just for the record
By Terry Joseph
Dec 01, 1999
Coming up against the highly advanced technology and
user-friendly strategies employed by today's music pirates, pedestrian
anti-piracy campaigns-no matter how colourful-eventually amount to little more
than a laugh.
Responses to last week's highly publicised "crackdown" on vendors of
counterfeit cassette tapes by vocalist Ella Andall is only the most recent of
such crusades by justifiably offended artistes. Having spent $80,000 on an
album, it must hurt to see unauthorised copies of the product selling so much
better than the genuine article.
But the history of that approach suggests that it simply has not produced
lasting results. What it does more effectively is to highlight a continuing
national misunderstanding of the piracy problem and show how far we are from
Who but the Pope would pass up a chance to buy an illegal compilation cassette
with 15 party hits for $20, when a compact-disc by a single artiste costs
nearly six times that price and may only contain two songs the majority of
customers really want to hear?
And it gets worse. If you plan to entertain friends and wish to legally buy
all the popular songs playing on the radio and in the fetes, it could mean the
purchase of ten CDs at a total cost of $1,150. The new releases you hear on
air, however, are almost predictably unavailable in the music stores at that
In this country, you see, the supply of promotional material to radio often
precedes bulk manufacture by at least a month, giving the pirates time to
offer premium products at flea-market prices.
So, as you wend your way back across the Brian Lara Promenade, dejected by at
your inability to secure the songs you wanted, you hear several of those same
songs on a single cassette and discover that it costs just $20. Not only is it
a heaven-sent bargain of gargantuan proportions, but the already cheaper
format also offers 45 minutes of your preferred music, running non-stop, by
simply putting in the cassette and pressing "play". Who could ask
The pirates are therefore demonstrating a superior understanding of the
marketplace than the very people who subscribe heaps of money and talent to
create the original product. All the counterfeiters need do is forge links
with unscrupulous radio personalities (or other persons with privileged access
to the recordings), to secure their supply of source music, which comes from
the very people to whom the artistes gleefully gave free copies of their
It is the business irony of the millennium. You give someone a copy of your
song, hoping that by airing it he will help generate interest and sell copies
for you. Instead, he conspires to make the copies and then, along with his
cohorts, sells them and splits the booty. And if you think that by bringing in
more police the problem will be solved, then think again.
Before the July 27, 1990 fire at Police Headquarters reportedly destroyed the
relevant documents, more than 750 files on piracy cases (some dating back more
than ten years) were being "actively compiled" for action by the
courts. Amazingly, in the ensuing ten-year period, just a handful of arrests
have been made and even fewer convictions recorded, with none of the
determinations providing any measurable deterrent and police forever promising
"new strategies" to deal with music pirates.
But if the police were really on the case, they would by now have noticed that
most of the illegal cassette-vending carts, cassette labels and fittings are
manufactured to the same specifications. This should suggest to the average
flatfoot that there is a central facility supplying much of the product.
The artistes and their financiers might therefore wish to consider putting
their time to more productive use, by studying the marketing appeal of the
pirated product and attempting to replicate that approach to compilation,
while the police seek to identify the source of mass production.
The hapless performers would then be better poised to come up with ways of
providing punctual competition to the inevitable counterfeiters, rather than
reducing themselves to engaging in piecemeal pursuits that do nothing but tilt
at the real problem.
And the current hullabaloo only refers to illegal cassette manufacture. With
recordable cds now available at retail stores and the ease with which computer
hackers break through protective codes to download music from the internet, no
artiste walking the pavement can fix even today's problem.
The attempts to date have been pathetic and do little more than heighten the
artiste's profile for a few days. Specialised programmes are needed to fight
tomorrow's high-tech piracy, which produces fakes that are visually
indistinguishable from the real mcCoy.
Perhaps the strategy recently adopted by the Recording Industry Association of
America (RIAA), may be worth closer study by local authorities. Last August
the RIAA mounted a new combative thrust, including monetary awards of up to
TT$60,000 to any individual who provides the Association with information
regarding illegal manufacturing locations.
After all, has it not struck anyone that the little guy on the sidewalk with
the tapes is not really the person we should really be looking for?
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