Saturday, May 07, 2005

Piracy, Desi Arts, and DJ Sanj

It is a well-known fact in the South Asian community that one of the main reasons desi artists do not do well at the box office or in record stores is because of our community's acceptance of piracy. Why pay full price for something, when you can get a rip-off of the original for half the price, right?

I know there have been some raids on Indian stores in the US, more for pirated dvd's than music, but it seems that the meteoric rise of the British Asian music industry has sparked British law enforcement into action. Last week, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), began raiding Indian stores to try and stop the sale and distribution of the album "Authorised" by DJ Sanj which was released on bootleg records but who is signed to EnvyRoma records, mainly for its illegal use of uncleared music samples and vocals, a problem that seems to be a regular occurrence in Asian music—think PMC's Mundian to Bach Ke biting from busta rhymes, who bit from Knight Ryder. That sample was eventually cleared, but most of the samples aren't.

The BPI confirmed it was investigating complaints by some of its members surrounding the remix album, released by Bootleg Recordings and distributed by the Birmingham based Hi Tech Music label. BPI Director of Anti-Piracy David Martin said: "We believe that this remix album uses lengthy samples of our members' sound recordings without permission." He added: "Of course we take every complaint we receive in relation to our members’ rights very seriously, and we are investigating the situation."

(There are also some questions abput the relationship between EnvyRoma and Bootleg, and the excellent Asians in Media is followed up on this. )

Desi DJ's in the US and in the UK, and probably diaspora-wide, are notorious for straight up beat and sample jacking. It isn't a healthy borrowing of a note here-and-there, but full hooks, choruses, or series of notes that are often used. That is fine if these mixes are going to be given away as promotional materials or just played at a club. But, to make cd's full of these uncleared samples and then sell them, well, that is kind of shady.

The problem of piracy does not end with the artist however. Sure we can put some of the blame on the download crew, the users of bit torrent and kazaa, but what about the people in the industry who are keeping prices artificially inflated. Is it fair that cd's cost 15 dollars, dvd's 20, or tickets to movies 10? Do musicians and movie stars really deserve million dollar payouts? Yeah they all work hard, but what makes their work worth so much more than mine or yours?

And then, what about the shopkeepers who sell the pirated materials? Many of the DJ remix albums which are promotional material and conveniently make their way into the hands of pirates and shopkeepers who make copies of the promo for sale. I know I have been in stores in Jackson Heights and even the DC metro area that have cd's for sale that have never been released in the US, which by the way, contain tracks that have never been released anywhere. For example, I read somewhere that stores were selling Jay Sean albums that featured demo tracks that he recorded on his home computer before he even met Rishi Rich.

Now I don't know if Sanj released the album unofficially or if some shopkeepers/pirates jacked a promo copy, and made copies, but for the industry to move forward, for asian music, and asian film to succeed, we all need to work together towards a solution. I don't know if that means a boycott of pirated materials, stores that carry pirated materials, overpriced cd's, movies, etc. But some kind of compromise or agreement needs to be made. I can't even begin to estimate the amount of money the industries have lost because of this problem.

I know everyone has a bottom line to meet, but the real bottom line should be the loss of marketability of our artists. If the mainstream does not view the Asian industry or artists as a viable one, why would they or anyone else even consider involving themselves with it?


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