Egypt’s independent music scene: How artists and consumers perceive copyright in the digital era

With her book chapter “Open approaches to sharing: Egypt’s independent music – a realm of sharing and creativity,” Nagla Rizk from the American University in Cairo (AUC) aims to answer one question: how can independent music be nurtured and sustained within frameworks and models that reward creativity and enable knowledge-sharing, in a way that reflects the current practices of music consumption and production in Egypt?

In other words: how can copyrights and intellectual property (IP) be protected in a way that caters to the digital era of music production and dissemination in Egypt?

The chapter, published in “Research handbook on IP and creative industries,” looks at the legal context of music in Egypt and refers to surveys across a sample of 600 consumers of alternative music in Cairo and 40 individuals involved in the music industry.

What she found was that respect for copyright is directly correlated with the physicality of the music product. In other words, if it’s a music track that I just listen to without the need for a CD, cassette tape or concert then it must be free from the legalities of economic rights.

What does the Egyptian law stipulate?
The music industry in Egypt is, in part, governed by The Egyptian Intellectual Property Law 82 of 1992. Copyright protection for musical recordings is given for 50 years if owned by a company, and 50 years after the death of the author if owned by an individual. Violations to such copyright are subject to a fine ranging between LE5,000 and LE10,000 and even a month imprisonment.

Creative commons are usually the product of individual negotiations, allowing for some alternative licencing.

Online music piracy and illegally copied CDs and cassette tapes are very common in Egypt. The last available statistics on music piracy in Egypt are from a coalition of associations representing US copyright-based industries in 2007. Those state that piracy levels for records and music were 75 percent in Egypt, while in 2008, illegal downloads represented 97 percent of all digital distribution of music.

How is copyright and IP perceived among consumers?
Only a third of the surveyed consumers use CDs and cassette tapes to listen to music. About 96 percent download music online, while only 1 percent pays for it. Of the downloaders, 14 percent believed that music available online is for free, which, according to the research, implies the lack of knowledge of online IP requirements and payment rules. However, 85 percent of consumers were willing to pay some amount between LE1 and LE150 per month to reward musicians, regardless of the format in which they would receive the music.

The bulk of payment directed at music comes in form of concert attendance. “Money spent on concerts represents a disproportionately much larger sum than money spent on physical musical goods,” the study states.

Consumers were largely aware of the concept of copyright, but according to the results of the survey, this had more to do with the moral recognition of artists, as opposed to direct financial reward.

How do musicians view online platforms?
Musicians view online platforms on which their music is available for free downloads as a “vehicle not for monetary gain but rather exposure, promotion and sharing.” The surprising notion is supported by musicians’ preference to the live scene as a method of remuneration. Half of the musicians that responded to the survey chose live performances as the first revenue source for themselves, while around the same amount said they get “at least 50 percent of their music income from live performances and 15 [percent] of them said they do not get any music income from copyright-protected recorded material.”

It is noteworthy that less than half of those surveyed use music as their main source of income. Ten of the musicians did not mind that their music was shared for free, as they viewed CDs as a promotional tool and appreciated wider listenership.

They also did not see performances as part of their business model – a term at which they shrugged during the interviews – but rather as a lifestyle choice. “The musicians portrayed a lack of interest in making money and were mostly interested in surviving by doing something they were passionate about,” Rizk writes.

What model can be used to ensure IP?
Rizk explains that the gap in copyright awareness is “reflected in consumption and expenditure patterns by consumers and will need to be taken into consideration in proposing any model that would seek to legalize, accommodate and refine existing grassroots mechanisms for music production and sharing.”

When proposing a digital commons platform to the survey respondents, half the musicians said that they did not want to develop such a platform that involved payment for music online because people do not buy music online and because it would not survive in Egypt. This resonated with the findings of a meager 1 percent of consumers who pay for their music online. Additionally, structural impediments to the approach included the lack of an e-commerce culture in Egypt and low internet penetration.

“From the musicians’ perspective, IP law is totally removed from people’s lives and hence knowledge of it would not serve any end,” the study concludes. “Some musicians find the courts’ approach to enforcing IP rights inadequate; thus, rendering the IP regime even more irrelevant to them.” Copyright law, in the end, was not considered an obstacle to music production.

Rizk suggests that a freemium model could work, in which free online music is bundled with forms of paid-for content and goods, such as concert tickets. This would come in alignment with the musicians’ ideologies of the musicians toward their music and the consumers’ behavior and economic preferences. In a nutshell, a hybrid offering of live performances, CDs, cassette tapes and online music could “represent a workable balance between public access and producers’ return.”


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