The Indian film industry is one of the largest film industries in the world. Around 1000 films are produced each year in India. It earns around $2 billion from legitimate sources such as screening at theatres, home videos and television rights. However, according to industry sources, the clandestine film piracy industry earns around $2.7 billion. Red Chillies Entertainment, a production house promoted by actor Shah Rukh Khan, was a victim of film piracy for its film ‘Dilwale’ in 2016. It grossed Rs. 148 crore at the box office but its pirated version, circulated a day before its release, accounted for more earnings. Films like Kaabil, Great Grand Masti and Udta Punjab have all faced a similar fate. Uday Singh, Managing Director, Motion Picture Distributors’ Association (India), said, “Content theft or piracy in the film industry originates from ‘camcording’ in cinema halls.”
Effects of piracy on the Indian film industry
Uday Singh informed that the infringed copies appear online within a few hours of a film’s release. He added, “The Indian film industry loses around Rs. 18000 crore ($2.7 billion) and over 60,000 jobs every year because of piracy.” This is also the figure that the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) brandishes in its magazine, quoting noted filmmaker Anurag Basu. According to the latest KPMG-FICCI report on the Indian media and entertainment sector, the Indian film industry is projected to grow from Rs. 138.2 billion ($2.09 billion) in 2015 to Rs. 226.3 billion ($3.43 billion) by 2020 at an annual growth rate of 10.5%. But piracy could also grow exponentially unless it is checked.
Origin of pirated copies
Earlier, the origin of pirated copies emerged from prints sent to overseas markets, which made their way into the Indian markets shortly after the film’s release. This has changed in recent times due to technology. According to a recent survey conducted by the anti-piracy cell, pirated movies in India are seen more “on the move, in trains and planes, on smartphones and laptops.”
Today, big film producers get a John Doe order from court before release. It means the onus is on the internet service provider (ISP) to block access to every website/torrent that may facilitate illegal downloads of a movie. Dealing with piracy and copyright issues in the digital world is tricky and often futile. Even if some torrent sites are shut down, other such sites mushroom within hours.
Abirami Ramanathan, a producer, distributor and exhibitor, said, “We have caught nearly 20 theatres in Tamil Nadu for abetting piracy, and some of them were charged with the Goonda Act. But after a few weeks, the persons concerned came out on bail. At certain multiplex chain in.
Bengaluru, as many as seven Tamil films were pirated over the course of two months. The multiplex chain claims it was done by unknown individuals without its knowledge. However, we have moved a criminal case and have solid evidence that it could not have taken place without their knowledge.”
Where does the pirated DVD chain lead to?
A survey conducted by The Times of India in Kolkata, found that the piracy chain that ends with a street-smart peddler begins with the highest echelons of film industry, with links to Mumbai, Singapore and Dubai. Even pirated DVDs with censor board watermarks were recently found. So how do these DVDs come into the market? A source from the industry stated that there may be insiders in the censor board and distribution houses who sell these copies for up to Rs. 5 lakh to a few shady dealers. The copies are then uploaded on certain private portals that have dedicated passkeys. For a few lakhs, these copies can be downloaded and replicated on DVD.
A DVD dealer stated, “Linkmen from Dubai are actively involved in the business.” Once downloaded, a few copies are made, which are sold to distributors and more copies are made in well-equipped down market warehouses. Finally, cheap DVDs worth `50 hit the street-side stalls.
Recently, Anjan Dutt, national award-winning filmmaker from Kolkata, was shocked when he was shown a pirated copy of his film ‘Abar Byomkesh’ with censor board watermarks. He said, “Copies shouldn’t come out of the censor board. I will definitely look into it.” However, the board denied any leaks. Producer of Dutt’s movie, Srikant Mohta said, “It is evident that the copies are leaked. We have to have a serious talk with the censor board on this.”
The home video movie market was worth Rs. 1400-1500 crore nationally but it has now shrunk to Rs. 250 crore. Even those who buy pirated DVDs can be prosecuted but such steps are hardly undertaken. Barun Das a criminal lawyer stated, “A buyer knows well that he is buying a pirated DVD. But it is a bailable offence and the fine can be Rs. 2000 at the most.”
Battle against piracy
Indian film icon Amitabh Bachchan has urged people to stop piracy and illegal streaming of films. He has recently tweeted, “The magic of movies has always been watching an extraordinary story come to life on a giant screen. Illegally streaming or downloading stories is not cool and will never give you this experience. So, do your bit. Spread the word to stop piracy.”
A Delhi based private security firm has claimed to develop anti-piracy software that nails uploaders and downloaders of movies on torrent sites. It was earlier considered impossible. Jitan Jain, Director, Voyager InfoSec Pvt Ltd., said, “Our engineers have developed CopCorn to track and bust movie pirates. CopCorn is an online piracy monitoring and controlling platform which can track leaked movies online and nail people who are uploading or downloading them. We also have a specialised method to stop these people from downloading movies and spreading them."