MASERU — Deafening music pumps from two powerful speakers in a makeshift stall along Kingsway Street in Maseru.
On the stall is a huge assortment of music compact discs (CDs) and digital video discs (DVDs).
But most of these do not look genuine at all.
Rather the CDs and DVDs appear pirated.
There clearly appears to be an air of illegality regarding this “business”.
But the “shop attendant” and buyers seem unperturbed.
In fact, people are swarming the stall looking for bargains.
The cheap prices appear to be the biggest draw card.
A DVD is selling for as low as M10.
A genuine DVD sells for anything above M100 in shops.
Thoba Lekoto, who runs a small shop along the street, says business is booming.
Lekoto says he is aware that what he is doing is against the law but he says it is the only business that pays well.
Besides, he says, he has not been threatened with arrest.
Lekoto says the only threat that he has encountered has come from Maseru City Council (MCC) officers.
The officers sometimes chase them for selling at illegal spots.
Other than that, Lekoto says he is a free man.
He says the police once cracked down as they tried to stop them from selling pirated CDs and DVDs.
But the police soon gave up and they continued with their lucrative business.
“The police have tried to arrest us for selling these DVDs. But soon they got tired and left us alone,” Lekoto says.
“Some of them (police officers) have actually come to buy music or movies from us.”
Lekoto says they buy these pirated CDs and DVDs from “suppliers”.
He however flatly refused to name these suppliers only indicating they are based in South Africa.
“You just place an order to a supplier through a text message. In a few days you have your bundle of all the ordered DVDs.
“A bundle which holds 500 DVDs costs M500. We then sell each DVD for between M10 and M20 depending on demand. We make a 100 percent profit,” Lekoto says.
“It is a challenging business but it is not as bad as it is in other businesses. On a bad day I know I will go home with at least M50 or M60. People buy every day.”
A few metres down the street is a man in his late 20s who speaks Sesotho with a foreign accent.
He also sells DVDs and his stall is bigger than most of his competitors.
The booming music from his stall is the loudest.
He is selling all types of CDs and DVDs from gospel to R’n B.
“I have all sorts of music and movies you could want. I burn it myself. I have my own place where I burn it,” he says in broken Sesotho.
But as we persist in our questions, the man appears to smell a rat and asks why we are so inquisitive.
“Why are you asking me all these questions? This is a dangerous business and I can get arrested if more information leaks out,” he says.
We quickly change tack and to put him on ease, we ask if he has a copy of the latest DVD from a popular South African gospel music group.
“Please come and check next week,” is his curt response.
Down Seputana Road, we meet Tlalana who is also selling pirated copies of CDs and DVDs.
Tlalana says he makes 100 percent profit or more from his sales.
“This is quite a good business. It is better than selling fruits or repairing shoes. I get a lot of money here,” Tlalana says.
But the pirated music is hitting hard on musicians in Lesotho who depend on sales for royalties.
Popular famo musician, Lephoi Mohale, better known as Mantša, says music piracy has deprived him of a decent living.
Although he cannot put down a figure, he estimates that his losses are massive.
Mantša, who started recording in 1988, says musicians were on the brink of giving up the fight against music piracy.
He says pirates had in recent years become sophisticated by exchanging pirated CDs with their South African counterparts.
“They have become quite clever. They sell our pirated music secretly while exchanging it with their colleagues in South Africa.
“The piracy has become too much for artists to handle alone. They are continuing to rip us off,” Mantša says.
He says he has lost thousands of maloti to music pirates over the years.
“I have lost thousands of maloti due to piracy. I use over R8 000 just to record a DVD. That is before I pay for some of the necessities that go with recording.
“Then there is the issue of taxes which we pay to import our music from South Africa where most of us record.
“Then someone somehow gets hold of the original copy and makes thousands of counterfeit DVDs. We sell for M150 and they sell them at M20.
“We lose dismally,” Mantša says.
Mantša says he is disappointed that the government had failed to protect local artists against music piracy.
In fact, he says the government had folded its hands in the fight against piracy.
“The government is not supporting us at all even though we contribute a lot to the country’s economy.
“There was once a case of a Chinese man who was arrested for possession of pirated music cassettes of the late Famole.
“His case was dismissed at the courts because the constitution had some loopholes on the issue of copyrights. It is so sad,” Mantša says.
A lawyer, Makhetha Motšoari, says Lesotho already has laws to stamp out piracy.
Motšoari says the Lesotho Copyright Order of 1989 and the Industrial Property Order of 1989 make it an offence to copy a person’s written material or personal creation without their prior consent.
“The two orders clearly make it an offence for people to copy personal creations without the owner’s consent,” Motšoari says.
Artists say although the Copyright Act of 1989 seeks to clamp down piracy, the law has serious loopholes that continue to be exploited by music pirates.
“Where the owner of copyright in a musical work has already authorised a person to make a sound recording of the performance of the work, and such recording has been made in or imported into Lesotho, any other person may make such recording without the authorisation of the owner of the copyright concerned,” says Section 12 of the Act.
The law says all that a person needs to do is to give the owner of the copyright concerned notice and “pay to the owner an equitable remuneration as the minister may prescribe”.
Legal experts say pirates could get away with their crimes because of these broad provisions in the law.
They say the government needs to tighten the Copyright Act and get serious in clamping down music piracy.
The Minister of Tourism, Environment and Culture, Lebohang Ntšinyi, whose ministry is in charge of the arts, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday night.