Piracy is a global problem and many record companies are finding out that this is cutting seriously into their profits. Since the advent of the Internet, it has become easy for music lovers to download their favourite songs at no cost to them.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents the world’s largest record labels, issued a study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates indicating that Internet users were downloading more music hence they were purchasing fewer albums.

But, at the same time, it has helped to promote and create a demand for otherwise unknown artistes across the globe.

Xtratainment spoke with some major players in the business and they were all in agreement that piracy was definitely hurting the business…while some agreed that there was actually a positive side to it. The bottomline ­ it’s bad for the producers, but good for the artistes.

According to Norman ‘Bullpuss’ Bryan of Tuff Gong Music, the practice of piracy is really tearing the business apart. “It’s the CD burning that most affects us here at Tuff Gong,” he informed. “At least 50% of CD sales are affected by this practice.”

Bryan went on to explain that Tuff Gong’s distribution of international CDs of mainly rap is affected when pirates sell the same product for far less.

Sonic Sounds’ Jason Lee pointed out that Internet and CD piracy have definitely hampered sales. According to him, at least 65% of Sonic Sounds sales has been lost to this market.

“Piracy is definitely hurting the industry right now,” the record executive concluded.

Believe it or not, there is a positive side to piracy. According to cultural ambassador and producer, Tony Rebel, piracy can actually help the artiste. “As a producer, piracy is bad but as an artiste there is another side to it. Because of piracy a lot of people who would not buy a CD for the set price will buy it at a cheaper price. It helps and it doesn’t help. Pirated CDs will go all over the world,” Rebel noted. “So while the artiste loses out on CD sales, he will gain more from live shows. It’s a win and lose situation.”

He further divulged that his single ‘If Jah Is By My Side’ is so popular in South America that a certain prime minister uses that song whenever he is having meetings. Rebel also explained that his songs are quite popular in Africa but he noted that he has not seen “a cent in royalties” coming from that continent.

“But the spin-off is that I am always in demand for stage shows there,” Rebel concluded.  Still, he was quick to point out that he totally understands the problem from the producer’s standpoint.

Shocking Vibes Director Clyde McKenzie pointed out that file swapping and piracy in general has impacted greatly on CD sales.

Of course, it doesn’t help that many are now indulging in file swapping, which is the practice of replacing pages or segments of data in memory. File swapping is a useful technique that enables a computer to execute programmes and manipulate data files larger than main memory. The operating system copies as much data as possible into main memory, and leaves the rest on the disk. When the operating system needs data from the disk, it exchanges a portion of data (called a page or segment) in main memory with a portion of data on the disk.  McKenzie noted that even with the closing down of Napster, file swapping is still rampant.

One of the many complaints that has been voiced by some consumers is that CDs are too expensive. On average, a CD costs between US$10 and US$20 in the USA, and in the Jamaican record shops the price ranges from $500 – $950. While pirated CDs (which offer a wide variety of hit songs and many more tracks!) sell for considerably less.

McKenzie explained that CDs had to be priced so that the creators of the music could recover their costs. “It is expensive to produce records. We are talking studio time, promotion and for records to sell in some stores you have to pay for ‘preferred positions’,” McKenzie added. McKenzie noted that the record pirates were not hampered by such costs.

But according to McKenzie, “One reason we can’t stamp out piracy is that the very people who are benefiting from the sale of pre-recorded music are the very same people who manufacture the gadgets which pirate these entertainment products.”

McKenzie further explained that many record labels were owned by consumer electronic giants that produced the computers and discs that were used to pirate the music.

McKenzie believed that there was available technology to alleviate the universal problem of piracy if the big companies really wanted to stop it.

According to Bullpuss, the solution from a Jamaican standpoint was for everyone involved in the music business to start “putting their heads together” in coming up with a plan. “The government must institute a system where pirated CDs can be confiscated and perpetrators held accountable,” he said.

The fact though is that the laws dealing with piracy of music and other intellectual property are on the books, it’s just that they are not being vigorously enforced in Jamaica.

Ultimately, if the practice of music piracy continues then artistes cannot expect to make any money from their record sales. Instead, they will have to rely heavily on live performances (which is already the case in Jamaica).

Jamaican artistes don’t seem to be overly concerned with record sales. In fact, they are more concerned with getting their songs played on the air as ultimately this will mean more stage shows…and dubplates, another big money earner for them.

In fact, quite a few of today’s artistes who have made it big on an international scale owe it to Internet piracy, which allow people in various corners of the globe who wouldn’t normally hear of them or their music, to now be chanting their songs on a daily basis. The result–creating a demand for an otherwise unknown entertainer.


Cecelia Campbell has been in journalism for the past eleven years. She’s currently assistant editor at Jamaica’s leading weekly tabloid, Xnews. She also writes for other publications, including the Gleaner’s North American Weekend Star.