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“We are losing almost $ 959 million to film piracy every year”

With the Indian film industry increasingly collaborating with Hollywood, a joint initiative promises to be a boon for Indian filmmakers. Uday Singh, Managing Director of the Motion Picture Association, tells Sagorika Dasgupta what we can expect from the tie-up between the Motion Picture Association and the LA India Film Council and much more

Can you elaborate on the partnership with the LA India Film Council?
There are two large film industries – India and Hollywood. We felt that through this partnership, we could bring the two industries together, build bridges,cross-pollinate thoughts, ideas, technology, education, and effect transfers between these two large entertainment economies. We thought this was a very good platform to bring the two together in specific areas like fostering innovation and bringing about creativity.

How do you plan to do this?

We thought we should have a governing council that would show filmmakers the path forward. Hopefully, this will result in larger interactions, more crossovers of talent, technology, co-productions and even in other services like animation and post production and studios to be a platform to bring opportunities that can be explored on both sides.

Will this alliance ease production and post-production costs for Indian filmmakers?

The council will work more as an information information exchange provider between the two parties. As far as subsidies are concerned, LA currently has its own subsidies. For instance, the California Film Commission is luckily on the board of this council. This will help process information much faster. One can takea look at their website to check out the various subsidies they offer.

And within India?

Within India, we are in the process of setting up our national film council. Once this happens, things should be far easier for filmmakers. We also have NFDC on our governing council, which should be able to help facilitate the process of offering subsidies in a much better way.

That’s one of the reasons we have picked the governing council very carefully in each of these areas, so they can add value to each of these initiatives. So they can drive those initiatives along side us in very specific opportunities. For instance, if a foreign company wants to shoot in India or use Indian post-production facilities, all the information will be available under one umbrella. We have Reliance Media Works (RMW) and Prime Focus, both of which have collaborations with Hollywood. This makes it very easy to bring the two industries together.We also have animation companies likeTechnicolor and DQE as part of the governing council. In terms of education too, we have Whistling Woods, USC and UCLA with us.

How many companies does the governingcouncil comprise?

We have 18 companies. In India, we have Technicolor, DQE, Whistling Woods, RMW,  Prime Focus functions out of LA as Namit (Malhotra) is now based there.Then there’s FFI and Film Producers Guild. We also represent the big Hollywood studios.

Do producers and filmmakers know that they can avail these facilities so easily or will MPA also be educating them about it?

It is an ongoing process. If you visit our website, you will see that a lot of this information is already available. We are hoping that as people start looking at these opportunities, they will get in touch with us. We have started getting inquiries from the US. We will build bridges as we go along.

Eventually, the actual transfer of knowledge will take place through crosspollination of talent, technology and education. Any new platform takes timeto establish itself but we are confident it will happen soon.

Did Senator Chris Dodd’s visit during the FICCI Frames this year, help the organisation in any way?

Senator Dodd’s visit was a shot in the arm for us! He came at a time when there was heightened interest between the US and India. More films are being shot here and our films are also being shot abroad. Thanks to outsourcing and co-productions with the US, this is a very good time for the Indian film industry.Soon, the reverse will happen, where we will use facilities from the US. His visit gave the partnership that added fillip.

Why did the MPA sign an MoU with theTelugu film industry?

We did a content-protection plan with the Andhra Pradesh Film Chamber of Commerce (APFCC). The industry has been fighting piracy very quietly yet effectively.The way they have been fighting online theft and content theft in the physical market is outstanding. They have united behind the cause and we are hoping this model could be beneficial across the country. We want to start exploring how we can get involved in piracy related educational out reach. There are specific enforcements we can make in terms of online piracy and the physical world. There is a lot we can do with them nationally as well as internationally.The best part is we are both non-governmental bodies coming together for a common cause. Hopefully, this will be a good model for us to replicate on a larger scale.

What specific measures has the APFCC taken to curb piracy?

They have done a lot but I don’t want to steal their thunder (Laughs). They have set up a tremendous IP cell within their unit. In AP, there is a great dependence on theatrical revenue. Almost 90 percent of their revenue comes from the theatrical stream so there is even more reason for them to protect their content.They have worked with their government and have done a very impressive job.What we are actually trying to say is that,here is a great model, let us work on a similar model and expand that learnings to fight piracy.

Where is the Hindi film industry lacking in terms of fighting piracy and what is the current state of piracy in India?

We had formed an alliance to fight copyright theft with UTV, Reliance and Eros and while it worked, it worked very well. Piracy is so rampant and everyone’s product is being pirated. So it makes sense to fight piracy together. Yet we pass the buck. A filmmaker sells his film to a studio and claims it is the studio’s responsibility to tackle piracy. Some producers sell their films to distributors to de-risk the content and then claim piracy is not their problem. The whole industry has to work together to tackle this problem or it will come back and hurt the content owner. We are losing almost $ 959 million to piracy every year and almost 5,177  jobs.

Also, pirated copies of a film are made,on average, within 2.15 days of the film’s theatrical release. But we are so protective about the opening weekend of a film that we forget about business that is affected by piracy in the coming weeks.

The shape and form of piracy is also changing. Take a look at the upcoming, new National Broadband Policy, which plans to almost double broadband by 2014 by linking 250,000 towns and panchayat centres. This will change infrastructure across the country. It is a great way to bring people together on to the same platform.

Looking at the Korean market, we realise that 1.08 per cent growth in GDP is possible for every 10 per cent increase in connectivity. Considering these facts and figures, it is a fantastic opportunity to generate money. But the flipside is that we need laws to protect content.We have to have adequate technological protection and measures in place so that content cannot be stolen. Since India is among the top ten markets for piracy,and if this growth in broadband does come about, without the proper laws in place, it will be difficult for us to fight pirates.

Companies like Reliance have usedJohn Doe orders to prevent their filmsfrom being pirated. Did the MPA helpwith this litigation?

The John Doe order is a very good step in the right direction. But you need to go to court and secure such an order before a film’s release. We are asking; why not nip the problem in the bud? If we have laws in place that curb piracy, producers need not go to court every time they release a film. There have to be technological laws, where it’s not just copy controls but also access controls of product. Technological protection helps in a greater way.

With more digital cinemas launching, has camcorder piracy reduced?

Around 95 per cent of piracy takes place through camcorders. We have seen great results whenever the government has passed anti-camcording legislation. It immediately reduces this menace in cinemas.

Eventually, cinema owners are hurt most due to piracy but producers have multiple revenue streams – the box office, satellite TV, home video and so on. So exhibitors need to make sure they putin proper security measures. If they are diligent, the chances of camcorder piracy are bound to go down. There is no bullet proof method to curb camcorder piracy.The only way to find out is through forensics which suggests that it took place in a particular cinema. Once cinema owners, especially in smaller towns, are aware that this is a crime, they will start looking at the issue. Believe me; a lot of cinema owners in smaller towns are not aware that camcording is a punishable offence.

The Cinematograph Act proposes fines but it ignores certain aspects. Like, if the scenes are pirated in parts, in does not come under the purview of the Act. And everyone knows how easy it is to shoot scenes separately and stitch it all up and copy it. So if the law is written correctly, it could become a very good deterrent.

What progress has the MPA made so far?

There has been progress in the sense that we have been able to highlight the problem at a lot of forums. Also, with FICCI stepping in, we have shot a couple of films to educate people. We have also been successful in approaching the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to write letters to exhibitors about screening a film on anti-piracy at most multiplexes.So, yes, we have achieved a lot so far.We hope that in a few months, we will be able to do a lot more in this area.

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