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Pirates Banished, Stars Welcome _ Polish Music Industry Booming

November 9, 1996

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ International rock stars used to shun Poland, refusing to play concerts in the country known as Europe’s most notorious copyright offender.

Industry analysts say such top producers as Sony, Polygram and Warner once thought of Poland as a place where they were robbed in broad daylight by bootleggers selling pirated music tapes from sidewalk tables.

But things have changed since the former Soviet bloc nation passed tough copyright laws two years ago. Police began enforcing the regulations, and the public became aware of the problem.

Record companies and performers responded. Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Sting and dozens of other Western artists drew huge concert crowds this year.

``The money, the number of records one can sell here started to make sense,″ said Marek Niedzwiedzki, Poland’s most popular disc jockey. ``It’s an audience of 40 million, so one can earn a few zlotys (bucks) here.″

Niedzwiedzki earned fame in the 1980s when young people all over Poland glued themselves to their radios on Saturday nights to capture the Western hits he played.

Communist authorities barely tolerated rock music and Niedzwiedzki worked for a state-controlled station that refused to spend any money for broadcast rights. So he copied songs off Western radio programs.

After Poland embarked on free-market reforms in 1989, it became easy to obtain music tapes.

But 95 percent were cheaply made, pirated copies sold on the street, said Bianka Cortlan of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

Today only 10 percent of tapes and 35 percent of CDs are bootlegged, Cortlan said.

After music piracy was outlawed in 1994, music stores gradually won customers away from the street stalls’ inferior products.

As of last year, more than $45 million worth of legitimate tapes and CDs were sold in Poland, according to the Polish Association of Audio-Visual Producers. A legitimate tape can cost twice as much as a pirate copy.

In the old days, pirated versions cost even less.

``But you paid a high price in another way,″ said Rafal Cichocki, 18, relishing the big selection at his local music store. ``The tapes or CDs were of very poor quality. Also _ and that’s more important _ Western stars would not come here, because they felt they were being robbed by pirates.″

Instead of fighting pirates, music companies now hunt for talent and promote local artists.

Poland has become the largest market in eastern Europe, said Thomas Hedstrom, vice president of Anglo-Dutch Polygram’s continental European operations. ``It also has a distinct market for its local music.″

After two years in Poland, Polygram is one of the market leaders. ``We are associated with two most successful local labels,″ said Hedstrom. ``Through this we have acquired some really big Polish stars.″

The Polish pop group Varius Manx has sold a half million copies of its ``Elf″ album since Polygram began distributing it.

Polygram’s promotion campaign, something Polish artists didn’t enjoy in the past, was another benefit of Poland’s new stance against pirated music.

In addition, the recording contracts that came with the international music producers freed many Polish stars from financial worries.

Kora, the queen of Polish rock music in the 1980s, used to play 25-30 concerts a month to make ends meet. Still capable of making teen-age boys swoon, the 41-year-old Kora now performs five times a month, earning more money for better-promoted performances.

``At last, this is for something: We earn money,″ said Kora, who was part of the subculture the communist authorities reluctantly tolerated.

``It is not only fame and crowds, and shouts, but something which is very important for human beings _ you can live on what you do.″

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