Music piracy decimating Czech music industry

Latest figures show that record sales by Czech artists this year have dropped by nearly 25% to 116 million CZK or 4.7 million USD. Given that this figure covers all revenues for scores of well established artists working in the Czech music industry, it is unlikely that any local musicians are going to make it big financially in this country regardless of how famous they are. In fact many feel such relatively poor sales pose a threat to the future viability of the music industry in the Czech Republic.

Petra Zikovska represents the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) in this country. So does she think declining record sales could have a detrimental effect on the Czech recording industry?

"Yes, definitely because sales are going down and music publishers and producers are hesitating when it comes to deciding whether it's actually worthwhile producing music here, because we are such a small market and the level of piracy is so high. It's quite hard for music producers to get by in these circumstances."

One of the reasons given for the drop in record sales in the Czech Republic is a growth in music piracy. Petra Zikovska says that the illegal copying of music is definitely having a negative impact on music production in this country.

"Almost one million units of [illegal] products are seized per year. We have I600 cases of [copyright fraud] per year and the damage caused to the music industry amounts to 250 million CZK, which is quite a lot. So it's doing serious damage."

At the moment, a lot of music piracy in the Czech Republic revolves around illegally copied or "burned" CDs, many of which find their way onto stalls in open-air markets, which are very common in this country, especially in border areas.

However, a growing area of concern is the illegal electronic downloading of music via the Internet, which has increased rapidly in recent years. Petra Zikovska says that although this a universal problem worldwide, it is particularly acute in the Czech Republic due to the fact that there is still no service offering legal downloads of music in this country.

"In the Czech Republic, there is no possibility of downloading music legally at the moment. There is no I-Tunes or anything like that. There is no legal possibility of buying music on the Internet so people are using Peer-to-Peer networks or other ways of downloading music, but generally it's illegal so we are facing a big problem."

Although the lack of legally kosher music applications for downloading music in this country certainly encourages many Czechs to acquire music illegally, Petra Zikovska says there may also be cultural and historical reasons why the Czech Republic has a significantly higher level of music piracy than many Western European countries:

"Public awareness about intellectual property in the Czech Republic is generally at a very low level. This probably has its roots in the communist era, where not only intellectual property but also tangible property was perceived in a very strange way because everything was in a certain way public [property]. So people until now have had problems perceiving that intellectual and even tangible property actually belongs to someone."

Jan P. Muchow is a member of The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, one of the most successful Czech groups in recent years. He also acknowledges that musical piracy is hurting Czech musicians. He believes that there are other reasons why the Czech Republic's communist past has encouraged the illegal copying of music in this country, which has had a distorting effect on local record sales:

"It's the legacy of the communist era because there weren't any Western albums in the shops. So the only way to get the music you liked was to tape all the music off your friend, because his step-dad was in the West and sent him some albums. So you taped those albums off him. So for maybe 30 years it was the normal way how to listen to music. To me it's no wonder people still have this way of thinking where - if they don't have a CD but their friend has - they get him to burn it for them, because 15-20 years ago that's how he would get his ABBA tapes or whatever. They still have the same way of thinking. They haven't perhaps considered that they actually stole the music. I think that's part of the problem of piracy in the Czech Republic today."

Petra Zikovska says that the easygoing attitude to musical piracy in the Czech Republic also applies to the country's judiciary, which makes it particularly hard to clamp down on illegal downloading and burning in this country.

"Judges still don't perceive it as a serious problem. They usually don't send perpetrators to prison. They just impose a fine and a suspended sentence. This is not enough in my view. There should be cases where perpetrators are sent to prison, especially in cases where they have done it before."

Ms Zikovska says that Czechs need to be educated about the damage they are doing to the music industry here by illegally copying music. She says that the situation won't change until there is widespread awareness among people here that illegally copying and distributing music is having a detrimental effect on the Czech music industry.

However, Ms Zikovska may well be facing an uphill battle. Aneta Langerova was quoted in the Czech press recently as saying that many music fans here are so oblivious to the damage they are doing by making illicit copies of records that they actually come up to her after gigs and ask her to sign illegally burned copies of her CDs.

Jan P. Muchow says he has had similar experiences at his own concerts. He says he uses situations like this as an opportunity to gently remind his fans about the downside of music piracy

"I laugh about it and I ask them how they can actually ask me to sign a CD they burned. So I wait for their story and they might say they didn't have the money or they couldn't find it in the shops, etc. I actually like to know why they burned the record, so I don't say 'I'll never sign this burned CD.' But as a joke I often sign something other than their burned CD because I'm trying to explain the situation to them. But I take it as something funny, because I would never ask someone to sign a CD of theirs that I burned. I actually would prefer to ask an artist to sign a CD I bought, because I like them."