Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Film and Music Piracy in South Africa

The program linked to above aired on local television last night. It dealt with film and music piracy in South Africa. So, ok, point made. Piracy takes money from the original owners of an artistic work. Thing is, the arguments given were so moralistic, it wasn't very convincing, and at no point was the question "why is this happening?" really asked. Quite frankly, the answer is that original CDs and DVDs are so expensive that the vast majority of South Africans can't afford them. I certainly can't afford to go to the cinema very often, when it costs over R30 a time, and it is a rare treat for me to splash out on a R120 CD. Especially when I don't know what to expect from it. I am very rarely willing to buy a whole album for a single track. And I am one of the lucky ones. I can afford to eat, I have a roof over my head, and all the amenities I need (plus a few extra). What about the vast majority of South Africans with none of that? Sure, it's tempting to buy a whole DVD for R30, if you can. It feels like better value for money than attending the cinema, and it is dramatically more affordable than purchasing the DVD at four times that price in an outlet. I guess the question is, if some people can produce pirated CDs and DVDs at such low prices, why can't the originators of these products. I get that it costs more than that to produce the films, etc. And people need to make the money, but what about reducing costs by avoiding big distributors, and letting advertising pay for the product. What about producing some low cost CDs and DVDs for the general market. You can still produce "premium" versions, with extra footage, glossy cover books, and photographs, but fill the gap in the market at present being filled by pirates with basic versions of the actual material. Put lots of advertising with it. I know that can be annoying, but if people want the advert free versions, they can pay more for them. Get your work out there, make it accessible to the people who want it, and stop complaining, why don't you!


Anthony the Monster said...

Here's a really good interview (on a website I'd highly recommend) regarding copyright law, piracy, reasons and consequences in the USA.

There are a few points I'd like to make here:

- I think people are under the mistaken impression that we have a right to recorded music. We don't. Music is a luxury. It's an indulgence. It's like a great drug (maybe there's room to investigate mass social addiction?), and it's possible to get it for free... I can't say I really blame people, but you can read my thoughts on this sort of indulgence here. CD's are expensive?! I don't know that they are. A friend of mine runs a small record store and alongside his prices he compares the discs value in terms of length in comparison with the cost of the same length in cellphone calls; the vast majority work out cheaper. And of course, the more you listen to it, the cheaper it gets, 'til eventually it's virtually free. That's value for money, but you need to be discerning and find albums which you will cherish and listen to again and again, i.e. music with longevity. And that's not easy to do, but making decisions never is easy...not deciding and demanding to have the cake and eat it is not only unreasonable, it's irresponsible. No one's stopping anyone from learning to play an instrument and making their own music. All the adult students I've had, whether they're just learning to strum some chords or if we get into some theory, remark that making music is one of the greatest releases and escapes they have found.

- I have pirated music on my computer. And I have made copies and given them to people, mostly students, generally under duress, and once in a blue moon. But I try to avoid accepting pirated music, and try to buy what I can. This makes me a discerning listener, and also a consequential listener: my taste and aural environment are being shaped by my actions and by those around me and my efforts in paying attention to record labels I like, artists I like & their collaborators, visiting websites, reading review newletters, etc. What I cannot stand are people who build collections of TENS OF THOUSANDS of songs, yet own less than 10 original albums (yes, I do know such people.) Long ago, I commited myself to deleting any music I have on my machine that I do not either own or cherish, and that which I don't own I will replace with the original disc. And I am being stringent with myself: I misplaced my copy of Radiohead's album Hail to the Thief, and in desperation got the mp3's from a friend (who also owned the original). I was genuinely shocked when I listened to them: they were different from the album...they were the generally-mastered-but-unfinished tracks that had been leaked from the studio. I deleted them. Not only because I didn't like where they'd come from, but also because I want the music that Radiohead decided to release - because I value it. The most shocking thing, I suppose, is that most people actually really don't care that what they're listening to is (a) stolen and (b) INCOMPLETE! As for the quality of mp3, I will always stand my ground that the medium is NOT CD quality (it isn't, seriously.)

- The idea of micropayments is an appealing one, however it does presuppose that the listener has a credit card and is comfortable buying online. However, I have little sympathy for record companies financial problems. They're spending millions on marketing and producing poor products, products with no longevity; it is inevitable that that sort of strategy would backfire.

- Moral arguments against piracy are obviously going to be poorly recieved (although, evidence that the piracy industry fund terrorists is a rather convincing point.) My concern is that the proliferation and general social acceptance of piracy seriously undermines the value of music. To copy music implies that it has no realworld value, that payment is unjustifiable. In some cases, it might be. There's certainly some worthless, rotten music out there. But if you aren't prepared to pay for it, then why are you prepared to listen to it? Would you eat food that you weren't prepared to pay for? If you can't live without it, then it must have value, and if you can live without it, then why steal it?

- As a musician and composer I feel terribly torn between wanting to share in the beauty and intricacy and power that lies in Music, and feeling that I should avoid being indulgent in dedicating myself to that. The consequence is that I don't really do either. One rule I've created for myself is to always ask, "why would people be prepared to pay for this? what is its value?" I will take responsibility for the failure of my music. The commitment must be to the struggle to create meaningful, long-living music. And that's helluva hard. Also, I am very wary of getting into an industry where my I face struggling to eke out a meagre existence because Music no longer has any realworld value.

- Music is NOT a natural human property. It is an intellectual & emotional investigation of consciousness (ie being alive) through physical properties of the universe. We cannot claim it as inherent or necessary or ours. We can certainly enjoy the results of the excurtions in many forms, but perhaps until we learn some humility and abandon the rampant romantic revelry of the aural orgy, music (as organised acoustics) will continue down the spiral to being completey valueless.

choirgirl said...

Hi, Anthony. Thanks for your thoughtful and extensive comment.

I do agree with you, to some extent, in that I appreciate the need to construct a value for a product like music. Thing is, if it isn't being produced for the (I hate sounding so Marxist, but it makes the point) people, who is it being produced for. When we have to defend what we do as musicians, composers and scholars of music to society at large, your argument works against the cause. I do agree that creative work deserves high valuation, and that is precisely why those who can afford to will be willing to pay for "premium" recordings, but keeping it from the (largely shockingly poor) masses reinforces elitist stereotypes of the arts. I do not like her writing style, or her indiscriminate and unconsidreed use of Foucauldian concepts (that have real potential, if sufficiently nuanced), but read Tia De Nora's Music in Everyday Life in particular, the first chapter, "Music as a technology of the self" to get a sense of the transformative value, and really quite critical importance of music to individuals in policing the self. Yeah, learning to play an instrument, learning to make music, really is a valuable pursuit, but once again, the preserve of the wealthy, or lucky. More urban children learn to sing by listening to and imitating recorded music that through face-to-face encounters with a teacher, or parent, or some other mentor. As an academic, the primary creative aspect of my job is writing. I would love to make money that way. It will never happen, and the reason for that is that the people who read what I write are primarily in the academy, and hence constitute a limited audience. Some (I hope) of what I write may be of interest to the general public, but they are unlikely to see it (unless I publish it on this blog, which I intend to do more and more) because the academy has been so intent on protecting their intellectual property from "the masses" that they have lost their voice. We cannot speak to the broader public, and if the protection of the elitist status of music continues as it at present exists, discerning musicians will lose their voices too. Your own recent comments on your blog make the point very effectively.

Anyway, I hope some of that made sense. I will read the stories you linked to, and post some more on this later. I hope this conversation continues...

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