IN an article in the April 15 — 21 issue of the Lesotho Times, Ntsebeng Motsoeli shed important light on the subject of music piracy.
She relates a series of interviews with various street vendors that confirmed that the illegal sale of music is a very profitable business with little or no risks involved.
This is because of the numerous loopholes in the legal system that fails to regulate intellectual property in Lesotho.
I must say I found the article very fascinating and it triggered my longtime interest in the subject of music piracy which I wish to take up in this article.
It also confirmed my position that music, like all literary works, film and other original works, qualifies as intellectual property and warrants royalties.
Royalties are monies that are paid out to the producer of the work or an artist for their copyright and use of those works.
This money which is collected by the artist is generated from radio airplay, public performances, downloads and the licensing of songs.
This means that in theory, the producer of original works is paid every single time their work is used.
Naturally it is almost impossible to track down every single time a song plays, in light of modern technologies such as the Internet.
However, it is normal practice that every single artist who is actively involved in the industry is registered with a music organisation in their respective countries.
These organisations in turn have agreements with each other to track down music across the world.
That is to say, regardless of whether a bootleg of one’s album is being sold for M10 at a street corner, one gets paid every time it plays on radio, in restaurants, movies and so forth.
Radio stations are required to log the music they play and pay a licence for the use of that catalog of music.
Establishments like restaurants and bars are ideally required to pay for the use of songs as well.
A blanket licence is issued annually by those music organisations that publish the music.
The Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro) is the largest of these music rights organisations on the African continent.
A non-profit making organisation, their jurisdiction encompasses the entire Sadc region.
In order for Samro to execute its duties efficiently, it has to base its trust on the ethics of radio stations and other commercial music users.
Sadly in practice, the collection of royalties is only effective in South Africa not only because the country boasts one of the most active music industries in Africa but it also has a huge market for music and users who realise the importance of paying for music.
Brief conversations with various radio personalities and other marketing executives in Lesotho reveal that music is accessible in the country and nine out of 10 times it is never really paid for.
This attitude goes as far as asking why one should pay for the music they use if they have purchased the album.
People generally seem not to understand how the copyright law works.
This means that every day songs play on the radio for the entertainment of the listeners at the expense of the musician.
With presenters taking their own CDs to shows for example, it becomes difficult to track down who is playing what and where.
This is compounded by the fact that there are no programme managers who have a logging system in place.
This means the industry itself is encouraging piracy, and the guy at the street corner eats the least piece of the pie.
Incidentally local musicians may have enormous airplay at home but can only generate a living from music across the border due to the collection of royalties.
They then sign publishing deals with South African companies who rip them off.
The source of the problem for us as Basotho is that we simply are not aware of what needs to be done.
This is proven by the ambiguity of our law with regards to copyright and other intellectual property.
For an industry that generates millions of maloti for South African companies off the sweat of our famo, gospel and jazz artists, we seem to be stalling in the face of adversity.
In order for the links in the chain to be effective, legislation has to be up-to-date and provide actions, penalties and reparations to address the administration of intellectual property.
This will not only enable our local artists and their families to earn a living from their craft, but will also give room for the development of other industries that encompass culture and the arts.
Just talking about it does not make us any better, so a more in-depth look could yield insight and encourage action.
Because it is going to be like picking up spilt milk, we have to tackle the issue of piracy from all angles — from the bulk pirates with DVDs and CDs to reporting people we know who sell pirated goods.
We must be active in stamping down on the distribution of these goods.
Recording labels, artists and publishers need to take control of their music and demand royalties.
While pursuing the legislation regarding intellectual property is the most necessary step, it will take time and demand a lot of resources.
Artists who decide to make a stand could fall out of favour and lose business.
It is however not impossible and for the protection of our ideas and contributions to a society, we have to plug the leaks and protect our efforts.
Let’s begin now!