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Piracy in South African music

By Adrian Silas Kusambiza-Kiingi

There is a feeling in my community that piracy has become a thing of the past with the introduction of digital service providers like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal. Music piracy still forms the second most common form of piracy. In a study by confirms that piracy is still well and alive in a lot of sectors. In a Malaysian study done in 2022, 7 out of 10 people reported engaging in some form of illegal music consumption. In addition to sectors losing revenue, there is a sizeable amount of internet bandwidth lost to people actively pirating content. In the music industry, we still face similar problems. Piracy in the context of this article can be defined as unauthorized use of copyright media.

I recently placed a song on a CNN show called Inside Africa (my track starts at 0:45). My parents watch this program frequently and they wanted to be able to hear the full track at their convenience. I joked with my dad that he should stream it when he wants to hear the full thing and he told me he should have easier access to the song. I owe my dad the world and I do believe he should be able to hear my music when he wants to. I asked him for his phone, downloaded Spotify and showed him where to find the song. He may have to endure a few adverts, but I’m sure he’ll be using a paid plan before the year ends. The main takeaway from this is that I didn’t feel bad at the end of the interaction because he got his song and I preserved my streaming income.

Many creators aren’t as fortunate as I was with my dad. Creators spend hours creating these beautiful pieces of work only to have their work copied illegally and shared across different platforms. SAMRO has a lovely booklet that highlights the problem faced by South African creators that I will link to here. They writer mentions that people committing piracy are in the plastic business. All they’re doing is selling you a CD for a higher price than they bought it. The thing of value to the buyer of that pirated CD is the stolen music. In today’s application, dealers of pirated music may be running websites where they generate traffic. They attract that traffic by using music that has been stolen. Some influencers are also guilty of committing piracy.

As technology advances, we need to continue bringing awareness to piracy and its effects. I want to take this opportunity to modernise the conversation slightly.

With the rise of influencers and content creators, more uses for music have been created. This poses great opportunities for composers as they get exposed to influencer’s audiences. It also poses a threat as composers miss great opportunities for promotion when influencers fail to promote the creator. As the concept of the modern-day influencer is so new, it’s difficult to say whether we’ll get to a place where their activities are more regulated.

A problem I’ve noted in my audience is when influencers fail to pay the composer. The influencer reacts by telling the composer to be grateful that they are receiving any exposure at all. I get furious just thinking about this, but these influencers clearly feel entitled to do what they do. In an article by Margiotta (2012) called Influence of Social Media on the Management of Music Star Image, there were two positives picked up with regards to piracy. The network effect and the sample effect. The network effect refers to composers receiving elevated levels of marketing through music piracy websites. The sample effect refers to users who aren’t sure about buying a composer’s work, getting a chance to sample or preview their work before deciding whether to buy. The article also stated that we can’t assume that all people who pirate music don’t also buy music. Given this statement, is piracy justified?

In addition to this, I’ve met with artists who claim to send their music to piracy websites to get an initial spike in the popularity of the song. This shows me that there may be a case for organised piracy in the long run, but its application and regulation fall outside of the scope of this written piece.

As piracy progresses, tools to prevent it have also had to progress. Tracking music through content ID, Radiomonitor, Tunesat and other tracking software has been implemented to pick up on song usage. I’ve received alerts on my music over the years of usages I would otherwise have never heard about. Some of these services even collect a royalty for the composer. In cases like this, money is collected from the broadcaster (for example Youtube) to pay the composer while the person listening to that song is none the wiser. This is probably the most positive solution I’ve seen in my 15 years as a musician.

In summary, piracy is still alive and well despite advancements to keep money in the pockets of the composer. We owe it to future creators to have the same energy that composers fighting piracy had 10 years ago.



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