PIRACY: The Pirates of the Streets

HAS Zimbabwe degenerated into a lawless society? For how long will the menace of piracy be allowed to blight this country?

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BY Mtandazo Dube – Leisure Editor

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Original sleeve of Jah Prayzah’s ‘Jerusarema’

Original sleeve of Jah Prayzah’s ‘Jerusarema’

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After spending a disputed US$138 000 in recording, packaging and launching his album, top musician Jah Prayzah, may have to be content with those two residential stands pledged by showy businessman, Phillip Chiyangwa, at the album launch last week, as pirates reap all the benefits of his sweat and blood.

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Pirated CDs, which in previous years were sold clandestinely like illegal drugs, are now displayed on semi-permanent stalls on every pavement of Harare.

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Like the wider vendors’ plague – piracy of music, movies, software, books and artwork is refusing to go away. In fact, it is growing, expanding into a gigantic problem that threatens the global creative industry.

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What is sickening, though, is the palpable lethargy on the part of authorities – from the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the city council to ministries responsible – in confronting the issue.

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For instance, Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni last week said the city council should “negotiate” with vendors rather than deal with the problem.

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Getting a straight answer on the measures being taken to curb piracy is never easy: each party always blames another for the lack of traction.

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However, a think tank powered by the financial muscle of the United Nations through Unesco may be on the right track.

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The team is in the implementation stage of the National Copyright Strategy for Zimbabwe, which outlines ways of fighting and winning the war against piracy.

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Sleeve of the fake disk

Sleeve of the fake disk

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Stephen Chifunyise, who sits on the Zimbabwe Reproduction Rights Organisation (Zim Copy) board and is also part of the team pursuing implementation of the strategy document, believes there is need for a systematic approach to the matter.

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“This depends on the harmonious interaction of the three pillars: administration, legislation and enforcement,” he says. “Government, corporates and the creative industry have to sing the same song. Piracy has been allowed to grow – in contrast to what national programmes like Zim-Asset call for.”

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He asks: “Why are these pirates getting away with it? All our neighbours do not allow pirates to get away with this criminality – our laws are clear. It is not necessarily that the law is inadequate – it is the execution.

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“In other countries once you are caught, the whole system is cleansed, dealt with. We do not want one arm of Government to be dealing with this problem. It should be a total war.

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“Piracy in this country affects our neighbours, affects our international partners who are signatories to the World Intellectual Property Organisation. We cannot be seen to be allowing this criminal thing to continue unabated.”

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Confronting the menace

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The strategy document calls for a need to strengthen, modernise, simplify, and consolidate the legal framework on copyright, and to empower rights holders to easily use the law.

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“Notwithstanding the difficulties, it is critical to contain the scourge of piracy. Our neighbours have introduced stringent measures to contain piracy. Zimbabwe should cease to be the weak link in copyright management chain providing a safe haven for vendors of counterfeit products.

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“Zimbabwe is lagging behind many countries in the region in the implementation and enforcement of the international protocols and national statutes on copyright. Part of this is attributed to the absence of an intellectual property policy, weak and poorly resourced rights holder institutions coupled with limited awareness and capacity of the enforcement agents on what needs to be done.

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“A common denominator that cuts across all the stakeholders is the evident reality of a lack of appreciation of the value of copyright and what it can contribute to economic and cultural growth,” it reads.

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As the war against piracy intensifies, Jah Prayzah’s marketing and distribution partner, Jive Zimbabwe, says it will solider on.

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The cost of releasing a CD are staggering: eight to nine hours to record a five minute song; practice sessions; and paying instrumentalists, producers, engineers, sleeve and graphic designers.

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Not to mention actual launch and marketing costs.

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Jah Prayzah says he will not be cowed by piracy and will maintain the official selling price of US$10 for his CD.

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“We are selling Jah Prayzah’s CD for US$10.

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“This is an international product worth more than the amount we are selling it for. In South Africa top artistes like Jah Prayzah sell their CDs for between R250 and R350 (US$20 to US$30).

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“Normal or rather average pricing is R199 while the phasing out price is R99. That is the going rate. Ours is very strong and durable.

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“The CD we are selling for US$10 was not duplicated but replicated.

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“There is a huge difference. It carries the original format of the master copy and will last a long time.

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“However, when one buys the duplicated ones they have to be prepared to buy a copy every week or so because it fades fast, scratches easily and the sound becomes poor in no time,” says JIve Zimbabwe’s Benjamin Nyandoro.

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Nyandoro says they will not compromise on quality, either.

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“Our packaging is original. We cannot tamper with the quality of our CDs because we will not be able to compete internationally.

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“I did participate in production and run of DVDs for ‘Tsviriyo’.

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“On the first day we sold 5 000 CDs, and in total we sold 26 000 copies.

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“For ‘Kumbumura Mhute’ we had 50 000 copies but we sold less than 20 000.

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“We still have it in stock. ‘Tsviriyo’ proved to be more expensive to market and sell so we did not make much profit but on ‘Kumbumura Mhute’ we deployed less resources, sold less but the profit was good.

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“After our experiences we have realised that it is better to work with formal structures selling original material.”

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Centre of piracy

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Investigations by this publication indicate there are over 500 small players in the piracy trade dotted around Harare’s high-density suburbs and Chitungwiza Town.

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The hub, though is Mbare in Harare.

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Most of the illegal traders of pirated material own portable duplicators and they operate from their homes.

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Experts say judging by the very low selling price of pirated CDs, most of the blank discs used are likely being smuggled into the country.

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“The country is losing money because the tax authorities are not getting anything.

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The blank CDs are smuggled into the country, the content is stolen and they sell for less than 50 cents.

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You cannot sell a CD for less than 50 cents if you have brought it into the country through the correct channels,” said one music industry executive. Zimbabwe does have legislation to deal with piracy.

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But it appears no one is keen to implement the letter and spirit of Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act of 2004.