The Anti-Piracy Prodigy

Piracy is the major factor challenging the emerging music industry in Ethiopia. According to studies, 80Pct of the music sold in the country is pirated. To fight piracy, few individuals are trying by employing an internet-based application to create a formal music market and reverse the misfortune. Established by a group of artists including the late Elias Melka, Haile Roots, Dawit Nigussie, and Jonny Ragga, Awtar, a mobile application where users can search the music archive and download songs and albums on their phones, is one of the upcoming methods to fight piracy and sell music works to the public. EBR’s Redeat Gebeyehu explores how the technology is changing the music industry.

The rise of electronic applications over the past decade has simplified and individualized the entertainment industry. In contrast, technology has also exposed creators to theft, although the audience enjoys more access now. Especially the music industry was hit hard by the informal circulation of creative works, impossible in old days when people had to buy discs or tune to radio stations.

“Video shops, You Tube, and my friends are the sources for my music collection. I never realized the damage on musicians, until my own music clip was posted on You Tube without my knowledge,” says Tewabech Mastewal, who released her first single in 2019. “I learned many renowned musicians I admired have invested big money to make music, some of them even selling their houses. But finally, they went bankrupt, because their works were distributed informally.”

Although Ethiopia has introduced laws to protect copyrights and neighboring rights in 2004, and mandated the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office to execute the law, matters only worsened.

It was in a bid to put an end to the situation, that a group of artists established Awtar Multimedia in 2011. Awtar is an internet-based application used to market music. Awtar receives new songs from musicians and uploads it to its online archive. Audiences who have the application on their phone can download music from the archive. It costs ETB3 to download a song from the app and ETB 15 for album. The application does not allow sharing of the downloaded music to other devices. Out of the revenue, 30Pct is allotted for Ethio telecom while 54Pct goes to the owner of the music and the rest for Awtar’s administrative costs.

The application, which can accommodate up to half a million downloaders, was launched five months ago. So far, a number of singles and four albums, including Haile Roots’s latest album dubbed ‘Yetamene,’ have been released on the application.

Eyob Mewded (name changed upon request) is one of the musicians who released his album on Awtar, leaving other outlets like You Tube. Eyob received ETB5,000 from Awtar, five months after uploading his music. But recently, he decided to release the album through other mediums. “Awtar could not expose my music to the audience on a large scale. After five months, I decided to release the album to media because I wanted the music to be heard by more people, although this does not generate income,” states Eyob.

Eyob says making music has become very expensive today. “There is no way to recover the cost from selling the album, due to piracy. The only option was to organize concerts as soon as you release album. But that is not possible now because of covid-19. I had put hope on Awtar but my music was not heard well. The informal music distribution widens your chance of being heard, though it does not generate income.”

Media outlets such as YouTube have become a trending outlet for musicians. The musician simply creates a YouTube channel and releases their music, where it generates income from viewership.

Eyob says his music could not get a wide audience through Awtar because of two reasons. “There isn’t a stable and fast network and a more preferable or reliable system for the application. The promotion given is also much weaker than what I was promised by the owners of Awtar.”

Haile Roots, one of the founders of Awtar who recently released his album on the app, admits there are complaints on the application. “Awtar is the first legal music application in Ethiopia. The app has some gaps and we are working to fix it. There are also gaps in creating awareness about the application.”

Haile says creating Awtar took a lot of money. But he says installing the latest app remained difficult due to difficulties in accessing foreign currency.

Dawit Tsgie, Music Director and Manager of musicians is optimistic. “Awtar application has a lot of significance in preventing copyright infringes which can really bring huge change in the industry even though it is not at its best right now. The app is new and needs promotion itself. Its role will rise when the internet connection in the country improves,” says Dawit.

“I have downloaded 25 singles from Awtar since it was launched five months ago. The app is very good in avoiding piracy and supports the musicians we admire,” says Ashenafi Tsegaye, a lifetime music enthusiast. “However, the app needs to be easy for everyone to download music.”

Dawit Yifru, President of Ethiopian Music Copyrights Collective Management Organization (EMCCMO), stresses copyright issues are reshaping the music industry. “The music industry is becoming energetic, despite all the odds. However, the number of albums made per year has reduced from 100 to just four albums currently. More people are releasing singles, shying away from albums,” explains the Composer and Keyboardist in the former Roha Band.

EMCCMO, which has close to 2,200 members, is currently finalizing negotiations to launch a royalty payment system in December 2020. The music royalty payment system creates modalities for media outlets like radio and television to pay for music they play over their stations.EBR


9th Year • Nov 16 – Dec 15 2020 • No. 92

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