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Lebanon - Lebanon's music piracy rate ranks second in MENA region

Lebanon's music piracy rate is ranked second in the MENA region, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). The industry group representing music producers and distributors said that the music piracy rate in Lebanon in 2004 is close to 75 percent of the market.

IFPI pointed out that Lebanon's piracy rate grew exponentially from 42 percent in 1999 to 70 percent in 2003.

The year 2004 witnessed increased government efforts to clamp down on piracy. More than 200,000 pirated CDs and cassettes were seized and key members of a pirate group were arrested, said the report.

The IFPI represents companies producing and distributing more than 90 percent of all sound recordings by Arab artists.

"From a total of 12 million audio tapes, one million is sold legally," said Ahmad Assaad, the general director of Rotana Beirut, a major producer and distributor of Arabic audio and video recordings with 85 percent of total Arabic musical copyrights in the region.

Assaad noted that if the remaining 11 million illegally sold tapes were traded through legitimate channels the government would receive $1 million in VAT revenue from the sales.

He added that "three [shipping] containers of blank CDs come to Beirut every year, of which only 400,000 are sold legally." Approximate losses would amount to 85 percent of the initial value of goods, according to Assaad.

Recently, the political turmoil following former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination prevented law enforcement agencies from sustaining 2004 levels of anti-pirating activities.

Nevertheless, a source inside the Economy Ministry assured The Daily Star that the government is cracking down on vendors of pirated goods, but that prosecution of violators was a matter for the courts. The ministry source stressed that "It is not within the mandate of the ministry to follow cases before the courts. Status quo remains because holders of copyright are not filing suits for infringement of their rights.

This is in part due to the fact that "copyright violators are often close to political circles which makes them even less inclined to relinquish their vested interests," said an expert in the music industry who spoke on condition of anonymity. He added that these mafia-like groups tend to form themselves around different illegal activities such as drugs, arms, or prostitution. "And this did not stop when the Syrians got out, as was expected by those who were searching for quick scapegoats to point at," said the music industry expert.

Assaad said that "as long as law enforcement bodies and mechanisms are non-existent, we will never have a significant decrease in piracy," adding that the music industry is trying to approach the government on this issue with no tangible results.

The IFPI report covered 72 countries, with Lebanon reported as being among 31 countries whose domestic piracy rates exceed 50 percent.

As for the region, Assaad said "Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia are those who rank higher in terms of piracy rates reaching almost 100 percent, then comes Sudan in third place after Lebanon." One of the lowest rates is in Saudi Arabia, at 43 percent according to the IFPI 2004 report.

Generally, the available legal structure is more than needed to clamp down on piracy issues, although most of Middle Eastern governments are reluctant to take punitive actions said the report.

Beirut,08 29 2005
Bechir Saade
The Daily Star
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