New Delhi: One evening in January, Balwant Singh and three of his colleagues reached the venue of a planned concert in New Delhi well ahead of time to grab good seats. The four then pulled out their mobile phones and recorded the whole concert—including the time before and after the show, when Bollywood songs were played over the sound system.
The recordings were transferred to a CD as evidence and a legal notice was issued to the concert organizers—they had not obtained the rights to play the Bollywood songs, nor had they paid the licence fee for playing these in a public area.
Weighty issue: A file photo of an elephant crushing compact discs seized during anti-piracy raids in New Delhi. In 2008, an Indian Music Industry team of 100 filed about 3,500 cases for various types of piracy. John MacDougall / AFP
Singh and his colleagues are the music police, part of a mission launched by Indian music companies that want people who play copyrighted music to pay for it. The campaign is being spearheaded by the Indian Music Industry, or IMI, association and the target is malls, restaurants, hotels and event organizers who believe music is free.
There’s significant money at stake, says IMI, which represents around 100 music firms and estimates that the industry loses around Rs1,100 crore because of piracy—of which at least Rs200 crore is on account of individuals and companies playing in public music they haven’t paid for (and buying a CD doesn’t really grant someone the freedom to play the music in public, as the small print on the disc says).
The money doesn’t look like much, but it compares well with the industry’s revenue of Rs650 crore in 2007-08, itself a fall from the Rs700 crore generated in 2006-07. And when revenue is falling, an amount that is equivalent to almost one-third the industry’s revenue is far too significant to be ignored.
The law of the land is with the music firms. Playing in public music that one doesn’t have a licence for is punishable with a jail term of between six months and two years, but not many people or companies are aware of this.
The industry is taking no chances. It has hired Julio Ribeiro and J.N. Saksena—two well-known retired police officers who led battles against insurgents in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.
Part of the anti-piracy drive also includes foot soldiers such as Singh. This team of 100 filed around 3,500 cases in 2008 for various types of piracy, including about 500 cases of individuals and companies playing music in public without paying.
Meanwhile, Ribeiro and Saksena have shot letters to the heads of police in all Indian states seeking their help in stopping piracy of music. “If the police can challan (issue a ticket to) a driver who is driving a vehicle without (a) licence...on the similar analogy, the owner of the establishments (defaulters) can (be) prosecuted under the Copyright Act,” says the letter.
In a bid to create awareness among law enforcers, IMI is also organizing camps for police officers in different cities. Last year, the group organized 75 such camps across the country in which around 700 police officers took part.
IMI is also working towards educating firms and people about the use of music.
In the last week of December, it wrote letters to hotels, restaurants and resorts telling them they should pay a licence fee if they planned on playing music for their New Year festivities.
Before becoming part of Phonographic Performance Ltd—the group that licences music for public performances—in June, Super Cassettes Industries Ltd, India’s largest music company and owner of the famous T-Series brand, maintained separate “raid teams” of about 200 people nationwide that would visit malls, hotels and restaurants, record music on the play and collect other evidence. The company filed dozens of cases in the Delhi high court and according to it, the defaulters’ list?included the country’s largest retailer Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd—the two “reached amicable settlement outside the court”, according to the Delhi high court website.
IMI also launched a television commercial on 26 January to create awareness against playing music illegally. The ad will be featured across several television channels.
People think music comes free and they don’t need to pay for it, says Saksena, chief coordinator of the anti-piracy wing for IMI and a former director general of police.