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If the anti-piracy campaign is to click, the government must ban the humble camcorder in cinema halls

The movie and television business is of international scale, with the financial success of films and television shows contributing significantly to local economies.

This is evident from the statistics that reveal the contribution of the film and television industry to local economies in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2008, the industry in India contributed US$ 6.2 billion to the economy and accounted for nearly 1.8 million jobs. That same year, the contribution in Hong Kong amounted to HK$ 33 billion and 32,000 jobs, while in New Zealand, the contribution topped NZ$ 2.5 billion and more than 22,000 jobs. Similarly, in 2007, in Australia, the film and television industry contributed A$ 4.4 billion to the economy and supported more than 50,000 jobs.

Like every business, the motion picture industry relies on profits as investments for future products. As content theft impacts profitability, there is less investment capital. Less capital means fewer movies can be financed, which, in turn, means fewer jobs are created and local goods and services are not consumed. The effects of content theft are felt across all sectors of a nation’s economy.

In a country where we have over 1,000 releases every year, to maximise revenue to ensure returns on investment, a movie studio typically releases a film according to a sequential schedule. While the schedule is changing to accommodate more day and date releases (simultaneous theatrical releases around the globe), often that chain includes a first exhibition in domestic cinemas, followed by international cinemas, the domestic home video market, pay cable, network television and finally broadcast TV syndication.

Though the gap between each release on various platforms has reduced to an extent, it is still wide. When piracy occurs at the beginning of any of these release cycles, downstream markets are negatively affected.

A 2009 film industry survey found that 100 per cent of Hindi titles were illegally camcorded and available online or in illegitimate street markets within 2.5 days of their theatrical release. Over 90 per cent of pirated movies of new release titles originate from unauthorised copies made in cinemas.

Movie pirates are well-organised, well-trained and equipped with high-tech gadgetry to avoid detection. It is critical, then, that countries have robust laws, including strong law-enforcement provisions, to combat this form of piracy. For example, in numerous countries throughout the Asia Pacific region, Europe and North America, there are laws against the use of a recording device in a cinema hall, which enables state and local authorities to criminally arrest and prosecute camcorder pirates. Hence, it is important that the Indian film industry along with all major exhibitors work closely with the government to address this widespread problem.

Simultaneously, with the first camcorder copy, the film is easily available on the Internet for thousands to download free of cost. Site-blocking measures and graduated response seek to address the problem of online piracy and copyright infringement. In response to copyright infringement using streaming technologies, site-blocking measures see the government mandating ISPs to block infringing websites from public consumption (just as child pornography websites are blocked).

In response to copyright infringement using peer-to-peer software, a graduated response sees consumers disconnected after a number of notifications warning that they are  violating copyright. With the cooperation of the government and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), site-blocking measures and graduated response can be effective tools in combating online piracy.

India is the fourth-highest Internet population worldwide, with 81 million Internet users, more than any European country (including Russia) and only lower than Japan, the United States and China. Correspondingly, India ranks in the top 10 countries for Internet piracy and illegal downloads.

Under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, the ISP shall act within 36 hours after coming to know of any unauthorised use of copyright taking place. Though 36 hours is too long, this is a step ahead in terms of curbing piracy. We urge the government and Indian ISPs to consider site-blocking measures and graduated response that have both been adopted by other countries. This, we believe, protects creative ideas and supports the economic growth of a number of industries in the long run.

Piracy that occurs at the beginning of a film’s release can have a devastating impact on its profitability, creating a major threat to the entire entertainment industry. Governments, therefore, need robust legislation to provide law-enforcement agencies the tools to arrest and prosecute these criminals.

Separate legislation, in addition to copyright laws, is needed that specifically makes it a criminal offence to use a video camera or other device to make a copy or any part thereof of a motion picture while inside a cinema hall, without the need to establish the ownership or subsistence of copyright in the same.

MPDA will be working closely with the government and the Indian film industry to incorporate legislation passed in other countries prohibiting camcording, which has been successful in stopping the use of these unauthorised copies for making pirated DVDs. This would be a very positive step towards reducing the piracy hurting India’s motion picture industry.

Uday Singh, MD, MPDA – Motion Picture Distributors Association (India)

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