One of the lesser known but undoubtedly very profitable cottage industries in Pakistan isn’t exactly legal, but it sets us apart from almost every other country in the world: yes, I speak of the rampant, unchecked piracy that we wallow in every day. Personally, I couldn’t digest the fact that people in most civilized countries paid exhorbant amounts of money for Software, Music and Video CDs, and most young foreigners who visit for the first time probably can’t get over it either.
I recall, several years ago, a cousin by recent marriage came down to visit Pakistan for the very first time. The young man was near seven feet tall, had a shaved head and worked out daily to get in shape for the Irish Army, which he hoped to join soon. Needless to say, to most, he was scary enough to warrant initial politeness and very little friendliness. This was before he was forced into going shopping at the local Sunday Bazaar with his mum. Upon the doorbell ringing, we opened the door to find an ecstatic fellow with his arms full of bags and bags of CDs and DVDs, grinning and telling everyone who would listen about the amazing price he got for the CDs here. The next evening, he was enthusiastically calling up friends back in Dublin and taking requests for these wonderful bargains that he had found. An almost constantly grinning foreigner is easier to make friends with than a brooding one, so the piracy rampant in our country actually turned out to be an ice-breaker that brought some very different people together.
Recently, however, there has been a cracking down of illegal CDs and their manufacturers. Because of this, several factories were shut down, artists and record labels with legitimate albums to mass produce were not able to get their product out there, and hundreds were rendered unemployed. More recently, I found myself in a tricky situation where I required a Windows XP installation CD and none of the local shopkeepers were bold enough to supply them anymore, citing their fear of “chappas” (raids). What I found curious was that most shopkeepers I spoke to still had CDs for videogames on display, which are obviously just as illegal as software CDs, and try as I may, I could not get a Microsoft CD specifically. In the end, I headed on to Boat Basin and found what I was looking for at the first shop I tried, which is odd because I would have figured shops that obviously sell software in a busy commercial area like Boat Basin would be more afraid of being raided than a small shop near Saba Avenue.
Being a tight-fisted consumer, I cannot help but be thankful for the low CD prices that result from the widespread piracy but on another, less stingy, level, I can also understand that someone who creates something others are willing to pay to use should get credit and royalties that are due. What ticked me off was not that the raids were keeping pirated CDs off the shelves, which is probably a good idea in the long run, but that there seems to be no alternatives available and none of the people who planned these ingenious raids seemed to have considered one necessary. I’ve probably bought near a thousand CDs in my lifetime, maybe more, and have never yet come across an original CD in Karachi. The lone original CD I own was brought over by a friend from the US, and sits alone in a position of honor among its pirated counterparts today.
Personally, to risk oversimplifying a complicated issue, I’m sure most people would not mind paying a bit more for original CDs, as long as the increase is not one that will simply scare a prospective buyer into the dark dens of underground pirates just because of the massive price tag attached to them. Just to poke my two cents into an issue that would affect me deeply, it’s a shame to pull the rug out from pirated CDs without giving us a workable, and affordable, alternative.