South Africa mourns pioneer of music industry who tried to fight Indian music piracy

Fakir Hassen
·3-min read

Johannesburg, Apr 15 (PTI) South Africans are mourning the passing of music industry veteran Dharamraj Sewraj, who fought against Indian music piracy in this country.

Sewraj, 58, succumbed to diabetes-related complications in a hospital here on Thursday morning.

During his tenure of almost three decades at the South African branch of the global corporation Universal Music for many years, Sewraj ensured that South African artists of all groups, and especially in the indigenous communities, got their proper dues as far as rights and royalties were concerned.

In more recent years, he started his own company to continue this. He had just explained in an interview with local media a month ago his plans to start providing a non-profit platform for up and coming artists with the ever-increasing opportunities on social media platforms.

At the height of the Indian CD music boom in the early 2000’s, Sewraj, together with Ekbal Omarjee, then CEO of one of South Africa’s biggest music distributors, Global Music, launched an initiative to stop the rampant piracy that was taking place in the country.

“We joined forces with distributors of Indian music to fight the rampant compact disc piracy in the country, especially from illegal copies of the latest Indian music and films believed then to originate in Pakistan and smuggled into the country via Dubai,” Omarjee recalled as he paid tribute to his friend.

“Universal Music and Sony then brought in the help of the Recording Industry of South Africa (RISA), the South African Federation against Copyright Theft (SAFACT), as well as the South African police, customs and income tax authorities as they attempt to turn around the situation,” Omarjee recalled.

He said Sony had joined the fight after discovering that there were more pirate copies of its huge hit ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ in circulation than its legal version. Estimates were that there were three illegal copies for every one of the 35,000 legal ones sold.

“We have set up an anti-piracy team with RISA, which has already attached in excess of 50,000 copies of pirated Indian music compact discs,” said Sewraj, then a director at Universal Music’s South African operations and himself a musician for over four decades.

“We have also involved the customs authorities, who have seized huge shipments which have been coming in disguised as other imports and have also been raiding shops dealing in pirate goods.” “From this, we estimate the market for Indian compact discs in South Africa to be at least 100,000 copies per title,” Sewraj said.

Sewraj said one of the ways that the legal distributors aimed to fight the pirates was to manufacture compact discs locally to reduce costs, rather than importing directly from India. He proudly showed at the time Universal’s first two locally-made CD’s, the soundtracks of the films ‘Aap Mujhe Achche Lagne Lage’ and ‘Yeh Hai Jalwa’.

Each compact disc carried warnings about copyright infringement and the fact that it was intended for the South African market only.

Sadly, the initiative was short-lived due to lack of support from the original rights-holders in India.

Sewraj also served as an Advisory Board member on the South African International Film Award (SAIFA), where he provided invaluable advice from his vast experience, said SAIFA founder Malik Arjun Reddy. PTI FH PMS