May 11, 2007

Sidharth Monga on India in Bangladesh, 2007

The Pirates' haven

Sidharth Monga





DVDs galore in the Dhaka markets © Getty Images
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Pink Floyd's Pulse concert costs 70 Takas (about US$ 1, or INR 45). The CDs of Black, one of Bangladesh's most famous rock bands (Bangladeshi rock is a big thing; one band has performed in Bollywood movies too), costs 50 Takas each.

And there's scope for bargaining. Rare Bollywood and Hollywood movies and rarer concerts can be bought for around a dollar each. Software programmes are even cheaper. Welcome to the streets and malls of Dhaka, the haven for pirated CDs and DVDs.

So widespread is the piracy that it’s almost as if there’s no other option. It's not even an underground market; pirated CDs can be bought in the most popular shopping complexes. People in India too know this and start sending DVD lists even before one gets a visa. The locals commonly boast they can watch Bollywood movies even before they are released in India.

The Copyright Act in Bangladesh labels anything used to reproduce a musical work for commercial use as piracy. This left the reproduction for personal use open for practice. Piracy through MP3s is prevalent in other countries too. But Bangladesh suffers more from the other infringement, one where an artiste’s work is copied and passed off as an original creation. In an article, "Cheating the musicians", the Daily Star says nobody bothers to stop the piracy of the second kind.

Earlier this year, a body called Movement Against Piracy (MAP) was formed, one which took the initiative to go to retailers and train them on how to tell between original and pirated CDs. Turns out they know the difference pretty well. But because of the initiatives taken, some of the CDs are now priced accordingly: Beatles in Japan go out for 70 Takas 70, Arctell in Dhaka costs Takas 390. The DVDs of the second kind find about 5% of space in stores. But people are conveniently given other options: to buy the pirated ones for 50-70 Takas.

The foreign artists may not feel the pinch, but it's the local musicians who are suffering the most. The Daily Star quotes Fahmida Nabi, a singer, saying that she has never seen a proper legal contract being entered into by an artiste and a music company. According to her, if there are proper contracts and proper royalty is paid to the singer, there will be efforts made by the music companies too to stop piracy.

Entertainment business still is not totally accepted in Bangladeshi society, and the common attitude is to not to think of it as Intellectual Property. It could be a long time before Bangladesh stops cheating its musicians, but what one can do – from a personal point of view – is grab all the Floyd concerts and stick to original CDs when it comes to Bangladeshi artistes.

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Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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