The T-SERIES Story
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The term piracy is generally used to describe the deliberate infringement of
copyright on a commercial scale. It is illegal and criminal in nature. Music
piracy basically refers to three kinds of activities:
- The copying of the sound as well as artwork, trademark, label and
packaging of the original recording, with an aim to mislead the consumer
into thinking that they are buying the genuine product.
Pirate Recording - The unauthorized duplication of music from
legitimate recordings for commercial gain. Pirated CDs or music cassettes
may be compilations or combination of hit titles of different music
companies. Unlike a counterfeit product, the packing and presentation of a
pirate copy is usually not a replica of the legitimate commercial release.
Bootlegging - The recording, duplication and sale of a live
concert or broadcast without the permission of the artiste or the music
company which has the recording rights for the artistes performances.
Those involved in music piracy range from owners of big
recording facilities to small shops with a single music system, which is used
to record songs that the customers ask for.
According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI),
a worldwide trade association for the music industry that identifies and
attempts to solve problems of piracy, sales of pirate recordings were $ 2.1
billion in 1995. This represented unauthorized sales of 954 million music
cassettes, 84 million CDs and 4 million LPs - indicating that one in every five
recordings sold worldwide was a pirated copy.
India was the world's third largest pirate market in volume and sixth in value.
The Indian music industry lost millions of rupees each year to the pirates. Of
the nearly 580 million cassettes sold in the year 1997, 175 million were
illegally manufactured and sold by pirates. The pirates evade payment of
royalty, excise duty and sales tax and also they do not have to incur the
promotion and publicity costs. Piracy levels were as high as 90 % in the early
1980s, coming down to 65% in the 1990s and to 40% in 2000.
T-SERIES & MUSIC PIRACY
Gulshan's father Chandrabhan and his family moved to Delhi from West Punjab in
1947. The family members began selling fruit on the roads and within a few
years, earned enough money to establish a small fruit juice shop. Chandrabhan
later started selling pre-recorded music by opening a record shop. In the early
1970s, Gulshan began looking after the music business and named it Super
By 2000, T-Series had become a $ 90 million group with a presence in the
Consumer Electronics (color television, fans), CDs (12 million CDs per annum),
Audio/Video Magnetic tapes and cassettes (186 million cassettes per annum) and
mineral water businesses. The company had rights to over 2000 video and 18,000
audio titles, comprising of nearly 24,000 hours of music software. T-Series had
a technical collaboration with Hyundai of Japan for its color television
This meteoric rise of T-Series was termed by analysts4 as 'a story of avarice,
greed and cunning and the clash of two mafias - one represented by Gulshan and
the other by those whom he damaged.'
In the 1970s, the Indian music industry was dominated by GCI and Polydor (later
named Music India Ltd.- MIL), which sold only expensive LP records through a
few record shops. These companies did not set up facilities to manufacture
cassettes on a large scale. Since cassette players were not very common in the
country at that time, GCI and Polydor were happy offering cassettes in small
numbers at very high prices.
In the late 1970s, cassette players flooded the country, many of them being
Japanese 'two-in-ones' (radio and cassette player) brought in large numbers by
workers returning from the Gulf states. In 1978, with the Indian government
liberalizing the import and export trade, new kinds of luxury consumer goods
appeared in the market. These goods were popular with the rapidly growing
middle class population. Cassette players (and consequently, cassettes) were
one such new item that quickly became popular in the country.
Compared to the LP records, cassettes were incredibly cheap to produce and
reproduce and could be easily distributed and transported. Gradually, a large
number of outfits began setting up illegal copying operations. Most copyright
violators chose old Hindi film songs from the GCI catalog. All that was
required to run a copying outfit were two cassette players and a supply of
tape, spools and cases. Since the bootleggers paid no royalties and no excise
and used cheap cassettes, they were able to sell their products at half of
GCI's prices. By the mid 1980s, cassettes reproduced in this fashion accounted
for a significant portion of the music sold in India. A major part of this
piracy industry was reportedly owned and operated by T-Series.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, audio cassette production was defined as a
small-scale industry (SSI). Thus, Gulshan was able to take advantage of the
subsidies, loans and all the other incentives accruing to the SSIs. The only
capital expense the company had was the cost of the cassette - Rs 7 - and the
cost of duplicating. This cassette was retailed at about Rs 25. On the other
hand, GCI and MIL cassettes retailed for Rs 36-45, as the companies had to pay,
in addition to royalties, an excise duty of 15 % on every cassette. As T-Series
did not pay any excise duty, the entire 15% benefit was passed on to the
customer. Gulshan also kept his dealers/retailers as happy as possible - if a
T-Series cassette was found to be defective, it was instantly replaced. Super
Cassettes never became a member of the IMI5 , and therefore, was under no
obligation to follow the organization's guidelines. The company quickly emerged
as the biggest competitor to GCI, which even came close to winding up its
By the mid 1980s, T-Series had reportedly stopped the pirated recording
business and 'shifted' completely to the legitimate businesses. However,
controversies continued to dog the company, with Gulshan coming out with the
idea of 'cover versions.' Cover versions were albums that used the musical
compositions as well as the lyrics of original well-known Hindi film
soundtracks. Fresh recordings were made using the same compositions and lyrics,
but with a different orchestra and singers, from the ones used in the original.
These recordings were then sold in the same market in which the original
soundtrack albums were sold, in most cases with the same title. While some
parties took permission before making the recording, others merely sent
notices, as required by Rule 21 of the Copyright Rules Act 1958, along with a
cheque for a paltry sum towards royalty for the literary and musical works.
Cover versions were considered to be legal as long as the makers had acquired
permission from the original music companies. The Supreme Court had passed a
directive that cover versions done after a period of three years from the
release of the original music score were legal.
T-SERIES & MUSIC PIRACY
GULSHAN - PIRATE OR MESSIAH?
 Life in the twilight zone, www.rediff.com, September
 The Indian Music Industry (IMI), originally formed in 1936 as the
Indian Phonographic Industry, was the recognized trade association of the sound recording
industry in India. The association comprised over 50 music companies including both Indian companies and
Indian licencees or subsidiaries of international companies. One of IMI's main functions was protecting
the rights of producers and fighting the piracy menace.
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