Author: Annshika Bakshi, a student at Indian Institute of Management (IIM-Rohtak)

Music piracy entails the illicit duplication and dissemination of music, whether in part or in its entirety, without the explicit authorization of the rightful owners—the composers, recording artists, or copyright-holding record labels. This act flagrantly violates copyright laws, ranging from civil transgressions to criminal offenses based on regional statutes. The proliferation of digital technology has facilitated the effortless transmission of content across online platforms, amplifying the gravity of online music piracy to unprecedented levels. The ethical complexities surrounding the dissemination and redistribution of digital material have undergone profound transformations, catapulting cases of music piracy to the forefront of legal and ethical 

Since the booming years of the 1990s, the music industry has faced a persistent downturn in compact disc (CD) sales, which has been a significant cause for concern since the turn of the millennium. While various factors have been proposed to account for this decline, the music industry predominantly attributes it to both physical piracy, particularly involving CDs, and the rise of digital piracy facilitated by the internet. Piracy has long been a part of the music industry’s landscape, with technological advancements over recent decades offering both opportunities and challenges. These innovations have not only introduced new music formats but have also facilitated large-scale piracy by profit-driven pirates and individuals. Initially, piracy posed a relatively minor threat until the emergence of the compact tape cassette in the late 1960s, followed by the widespread availability of home cassette recorders in the 1970s.

The introduction of the CD in 1982 marked a significant shift. While it boosted global music sales, it also opened the door to high-quality mass replication, enabling widespread copying. The music industry’s traditional control over music distribution faced competition as entrepreneurs seized the opportunities afforded by these technologies. Concerns extended beyond individuals copying CDs onto CD-Rs; the industry grappled and continues to grapple with serious apprehensions regarding large-scale commercial music piracy. This escalated swiftly to association with organized crime, raising significant alarm within the industry.

In a notable instance of music piracy, a dispute arose between music icons The Beatles and rock pioneer Chuck Berry. In 1969, The Beatles released “Come Together”, a standout track from their Abbey Road album. This track, beloved by John Lennon, drew controversy as its musical structure heavily mirrored Berry’s 1956 song “You Can’t Catch Me”. Notably, Lennon even incorporated Berry’s lyric “here comes old flat-top”. Berry’s legal team swiftly took action, leading Lennon to settle the case out of court with Berry’s publishers, Morris Levy. As part of the settlement, Lennon agreed to record additional songs owned by Morris Levy, which later appeared on his 1975 album “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Though Lennon reluctantly admitted the influence of “You Can’t Catch Me,” he expressed frustration at being taken to court for acknowledging it. Paul McCartney also noticed the similarities and advised Lennon to distance himself from the borrowed elements. This case serves as a prime example of the repercussions of copyright infringement. Ultimately, both sides found partial victories in their respective claims, with Lennon and EMI Music receiving slightly more in monetary terms.

India is home to a booming entertainment industry, where composers and lyricists play a significant role in crafting the songs integral to Indian cinema. Prior to the Copyright (Amendment) Act of 2012, these creators received limited royalties for their contributions to Indian films. This amendment not only increased royalty rates for authors, composers, and lyricists but also aligned Indian copyright laws with international treaties, extending protection for Indian copyright abroad.

Recognizing the need to adapt to technological shifts, the Indian government has periodically amended the Indian Copyright Act. Moreover, prominent figures within the Indian film and music spheres have openly opposed music copyright infringement. Heightened awareness among industry leaders regarding the replication of previously copyrighted songs has led to a willingness to address such violations. Instances where collaborators infringe upon existing works reflect poorly on the creative integrity of Indian composers and signal a prioritization of profit over genuine originality. This growing understanding of copyright infringement within the Indian film industry has sparked a renewed emphasis on fostering originality in Indian film music. It highlights a collective desire to prioritize creativity and authenticity over replicating existing works for commercial gain.

The Indian music industry, through the Indian Music business (IMI), has taken a proactive stance against piracy, resulting in over 4000 convictions under the Indian Copyright Act of 1957. Penalties have ranged up to Rs three lacs in fines and imprisonment for up to three years. Additionally, more than three hundred cases have been resolved through plea bargaining, involving compensation up to Rs. 20,000. Digital piracy stands out as the primary threat to the legitimate music sector and artist investments in India. A 2017 IPSOS study revealed that over 94 percent of internet users accessed unlicensed music content. This abundance of pirated material dissuades users from opting for legal avenues like audio streaming or direct downloads, impacting the willingness to pay for music. A recent IFPI-commissioned study on Music Consumer Insights highlighted that a significant proportion of users in India resort to piracy for music downloads compared to other countries studied. Despite the abundance of audio streaming services offering easy access to musical content, piracy maintains a substantial negative influence on the recorded music industry in India.

Here are some reasons why Indians tend to opt for pirated music over the original:

  1. Many individuals resort to piracy because they are unwilling to pay for content. This behavior harms content creators who rely on revenue from their creations. Torrent websites and online platforms facilitate quick, free access to movies and TV shows, contributing to financial losses for creators.
  2. In some cases, piracy occurs not due to a refusal to pay, but because certain content is unaffordable for some individuals. For instance, software like Adobe Photoshop, essential for image editing, comes at a high cost. Some people resort to obtaining it from illegal sources due to financial constraints, though it’s akin to stealing premium software just because it’s expensive.
  3. Production studios and software companies sometimes delay the release of content in specific regions instead of making it available universally. This delay prompts some individuals to pirate the content rather than wait for its official availability, leading them to seek it out from torrent websites.

The sustainability of the music industry faces threats beyond piracy, with a significant concern being the widening price gap. This gap refers to the disparity between the revenue extracted by user-uploading platforms such as YouTube from music and the returns provided to the music community—those involved in creating and investing in music. In India, internet users spend considerable time consuming music on video streaming services like YouTube compared to audio streaming services. To address threats like piracy and the price gap, establishing a more stringent legal framework is imperative. Holding accountable the services responsible for music distribution for their misconduct is crucial. This action stands to benefit creators, producers, consumers, and innovative digital platforms alike.

Despite legislative efforts in India to protect copyright holders and provide remedies for infringement, challenges persist in effective enforcement. Amendments made to the Indian Copyright Act in 1983 and 1994 aimed to strengthen copyright protection. However, India consistently finds itself on the “priority watch list” due to perceived shortcomings in enforcing its copyright laws. In 2010, The Copyright Amendment Bill was introduced to the Indian Parliament, and it was eventually amended in 2012, becoming the Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012. This amendment aimed to grant authors and music lyricists royalties and benefits from the commercial use of their work, shifting away from previous provisions that vested royalties with music companies and film producers. Despite these legislative changes and efforts to enforce copyright laws, India still falls short of meeting the standards set by organizations such as the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IPA) and the Special 301 Report. Enforcement and effective implementation remain key challenges despite the legal reforms.

The Indian legal framework, despite the Copyright (Amendment) Act of 2012, struggles with inadequate enforcement of copyright laws. Criminal enforcement regarding copyright infringement is poorly monitored, and intellectual property rights (IPR) cases are often relegated to low priority in the courts. This leniency granted to the entertainment industry impedes the government’s ability to effectively enforce intellectual property rights. While the Indian Copyright Act identifies copyright infringement as a criminal offense, the enforcement process remains ineffective, leading to delays and undermining the copyright holder’s access to justice. The entertainment industry in India often benefits from creating unauthorized derivatives of copyrighted works, posing a concern for countries like the United States that stand to lose from such actions. Moreover, this lax protection of copyrighted works may discourage foreign investments by multinational corporations. Companies across various sectors express concerns about narrow standards for patentability, potential threats of compulsory licensing and patent revocations, and overly broad criteria for issuing such licenses and revocations under the India Patents Act. These factors collectively contribute to a challenging landscape for copyright enforcement and intellectual property rights protection in India, impacting both local and international stakeholders. India’s widespread copyright infringement issue stems from the weak enforcement of the Indian Copyright Act. Courts face a massive backlog of cases, particularly neglecting copyright and other intellectual property disputes. Indian film producers and music directors have historically exploited the relative obscurity of Bollywood and regional film industries to copy foreign copyrighted works without repercussions. With globalization, both original copyright owners and consumers of unauthorized derivative works now easily recognize connections between the original and the copied content. 

To address the frequent instances of copying, India could implement stricter penalties for offenders, especially targeting popular musicians who profit from unauthorized derivatives. Publicizing cases involving famous musicians copying from external sources through the Copyright Enforcement Advisory Council would raise awareness and encourage criticism of such actions. The issue largely originates from renowned music directors consistently producing hit songs by copying existing copyrighted works. By penalizing prolific copycats, authorities could emphasize the need for original creativity and deter such practices. Implementing tougher penalties could potentially remove India from the Special 301 “priority watch list” and demonstrate adherence to international intellectual property treaties, offering stringent protection to foreign works akin to domestic ones. Website blocking stands out as one of the most effective anti-piracy methods. In certain Indian regions, courts have issued orders against ISPs, instructing them to block access to specific sites. For instance, the 2012 Calcutta High Court ruling mandated the blocking of 104 copyright infringing websites by hundreds of ISPs. Collaborative efforts between IMI and IFPI have aimed at taking down major infringing sites. Increasing awareness among the Indian public and the global music community about copycat practices could contribute to reducing frequent copying. Similar to actions taken by the Malaysian and Taiwanese governments, India should commit to curtailing copyright infringement by penalizing high-profile violators.

India still has a long way to go before its film and music industries cease making unauthorized reproductions without permission or credit. Yet, within the Indian entertainment sphere, a growing realization among creators emphasizes the crucial protection of copyrighted works, regardless of their origin. Drawing inspiration from developing nations that have fortified Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) enforcement, India holds the potential to step off the United States’ Special 301 “priority watch list.” Following the lead of proactive nations like Malaysia and Taiwan, India could implement penalties targeting influential copyright infringers in its music domain. Collaboration with the United States, tapping into its expertise in copyright law, stands as a pathway for India to curb copying and infringement. By embracing global standards and assimilating effective enforcement methodologies, India aims not just to diminish copyright transgressions but also to cultivate a climate that champions innovation. This concerted effort promises a reduction in violations and a surge in originality, reshaping India’s entertainment landscape for the better.


  1. International Journal of Research in Social Sciences Vol. 9 Issue 6, June 2019, ISSN: 2249-2496
  2. https://indianmi.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/IMI-Digital-Piracy-Report-F1-for-distribution.pdf
  3. http://www.ijarp.org/published-research-papers/nov2017/Assessing-Music-Piracy-And-Its-Imperatives-For-Upcoming-Artists-A-Qualitative-Insight.pdf
  4. Brown, “Myths about Musicians and Music Piracy”, 2017
  5. Bhattacharjee, Sudip, Ram D. Gopal, Kaveepan Lertwachara, James R. Marsden, and Rahul Telang. “The Effect of Digital Sharing Technologies on Music Markets: A Survival Analysis on Albums on Ranking Charts.” 
  6. Gopal, Ram D., and Sudip Bhattacharjee. “Do Artists Benefit from Online Music Sharing.” The Journal of Business

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *