I think it was in the year 2006 that I first heard of a miraculous software called Limewire. I was admiring my friend’s 10 GB strong collection of music when I received my first lesson of illegal music downloading “Just download the free trial software and then you can take down any song you want” my friend declared proudly. The fact that doing so violated a few sections of the Copyright Act of India meant nothing to him, the ignorance that is shared, or even welcomed, by the hundreds of people downloading illegally off the Internet everyday.
The era of downloading music from the web was ushered in by Rob Lord, Jeff Patterson and Jon Luini of the University of California in 1993. The concept was welcomed all over the globe as Internet itself was fast evolving as the primary medium of communication and interactivity. India woke to the trend only a few years back with music producers like Saregama, HMV, T-Series and Sony BMG digitizing their tracks to make them available online. With inventions like Apple’s I-Pod catching the fancy of the youth, digital music has replaced CDs and cassettes are almost non-existent.
But nothing comes without a price, all pun intended. Downloading music legally costs around £1 per song (if the download is made from iTunes) for english tracks and around Rs. 15/- for hindi music. The major perk is that you only have to download selective songs and not the entire album, the total cost of which would fall somewhere between Rs. 100 and 150. Not much, but why pay anything at all when you can do the same for free?
As with every invention, the loopholes of this particular privilege have been exploited to the fullest. With soft wares like Limewire, Ares and free music download sites like songs.pk, musicindiaonline.com, raga.com etc. offering the same music free of cost, the music industry is suffering heavy losses. The US and UK entertainment industry loses an estimated $600 and $650 billion dollars respectively each year due to piracy. India is not far behind, as rampant piracy results in about 600-700 crore worth of losses to the music industry each year. The loss of jobs is another matter altogether. With 64% of the downloaded music being illegal, the job loss is 8,00,000 and counting.
Another factor that is milking this piracy is the mobile boom in India. As mobile subscriptions in the country increase, mobiles with sophisticated features like Bluetooth and music transfer are becoming cheaper. Taking into account the download of full songs, ringtones, hello tunes and music videos, the music industry earns about Rs. 400 crore from the mobile market. However, users are now resorting to the use of Bluetooth, USB cables and memory cards to add music to their phones which is causing losses of 35-40 crore to the industry. With a predicted annual growth of 50% for mobile downloads, this piracy needs to be checked quickly and effectively.
The problem with India is that laws are made but regulation is bare minimum. In countries like US and UK, piracy is being checked effectively as the regulating agencies keep a close watch on illegal downloading sites and other such software. In India, there are far too many people to check and the people doing the checking are not effectively trained to stop cyber crime. Plus, the punishment that is levied on pirates is not much and does not serve as an effective threat. The government can probably begin by increasing the jail term for people caught violating the Copyright Act and set up a branch under the Information and Broadcast Ministry which could check cyber crime and make internet browsing more healthy.
The new year promises new technologies like the 3G which will make it easier for people to access the internet from their mobiles and download tunes, amongst other things. All that can be hoped is that the users give the artists their due and help them keep music alive.
[Image courtesy: http://www.smh.com.au/ffximage/2005/01/13/illegalcds_gallery__550x360,0.jpg]