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Who Will Bell The Copy Cat?

It is baffling that we should invest so much in making films yet have no inclination to do whatever it takes to keep them safe from pirates. Is this a lost cause?



While there are many factors that are holding back the growth of our industry, piracy is one of the biggest reasons for loss of revenue. Recently, writer Ritesh Shah was in our office and in a very upbeat mood. And why not? His work is being appreciated and his latest release Pink is doing very well at the ticket counter.

During the course of our conversation with him, Shah shared some vital details about Pink. He told us that he had been working on the film for the last three years and the product that released a week ago was the sixth screenplay draft. Isn’t it amazing that a man dedicates his three years to deliver a solid product like Pink?

However, the very day the film released in cinemas, pirated DVDs were also being sold cheaply in markets near cinema halls. How sad is that? Someone had committed three years of his life to make something and how easily it becomes available in the black market. Filmmaking is no mean feat; it is a long and arduous process that involves hundreds of people for each film. Yet, it can be pirated in the blink of an eye.

There was a time in the Indian film industry where different filmmakers would make different movies. There was an era when A-grade, B-grade and C-grade categories of movies existed, and then there was parallel cinema. And movies of all grades would get a theatrical release because that was the only way for the audience to watch the kind of movies they wanted to watch.

Considering ticket prices today, who would want to fork out that much and go to the cinema to watch a small-budget or a B-grade movie? They prefer to watch it on their phones (it is easily available thanks to Internet piracy) or buy pirated DVDs.

Movie-goers prefer to spend money only when there are big names attached to a movie; otherwise they have other options where they spend much less and watch the film at their own convenience. And we have piracy to thank for this. This is definitely holding back the film business and also the growth of our industry.

What do you think Ritesh Shah would feel when he sees cheap, pirated versions of his film available in the market or on the Internet? And why just him? It is devastating for everyone associated with a film.

Is there a solution? It’s a question that’s been raised several times before? On the one hand, we are seeing fewer and fewer moviegoers coming to watch Hindi movies. Yet, the cinema-going audience is growing in the South. And the reason? It is not easy for pirated DVDs to be sold down South. In fact, it is very rare to find a pirated version of a South film online.

We should not take this lightly and should learn a lesson from it. We make movies and go all out to promote them, only to find that it has leaked the day it released. This is what happened recently with movies like Udta Punjab and Great Grand Masti. We pour our heart into making movies but we cannot keep our films safe.

Let us remember that it is NEVER too late. If we get together, we can do it. Why should it be so hard to devote some time to come together, come up with solutions and make sure there’s NO scope for piracy?

In this section of our seventh anniversary issue, we have discussed the devastating effect of piracy on our films. Let’s hope and pray that, some day, we will find a cure for this menace. Read on:

apoorva-mehta22Apoorva Mehta, CEO, Dharma Productions

The problem of piracy has always been a major concern for our industry. However, it has become a bigger worry ever since content moved from physical DVDs to the digital space. A couple of years ago, there were about 300 to 400 pirated sites that were illegally uploading films online for download. But now, with vastly improved connectivity and internet penetration, we are dealing with 1,200 to 1,300 sites that make pirated films available, not within a day but within three hours.

It is very difficult to exercise control over BitTorrent sites as they have mushroomed at a very fast pace on the Web. In such a scenario, all one can do is get a John Doe order issued, list all the sites commonly used to download pirated movies and direct Internet Service Providers to block access to these sites. All of this does come at a rather huge cost, though. You have to go to court to secure the order, and you have to do this for every film you release. While the John Doe order lists specific sites only, proxy sites can get around this restriction.

Some countries have proactive anti-piracy enforcements in place. America and Germany send notices out instantly; they are commendably active on this front because they treat piracy as a serious crime. Yet, there are countries like Sweden and the Netherlands, where the rules are not stringent and inevitably, films are pirated from ISP addresses belonging to companies operating in these countries.

All this is likely to only get worse as Internet speeds and connectivity increases across the length and breadth of the country.

mr-sushilkumar-agrawal-ceo-ultra-media-entertainment-private-ltdSushilkumar Agrawal, ,CEO, Ultra Media and Entertainment

Film piracy has always been a big revenue stealer and it is sad that it is still so rampant in one of the highest tax-paying industries in the country. Recently, pirated versions of two major films that were scheduled to release in cinemas were available online even before their theatrical release. One can buy pirated DVDs of films from roadside vendors, demonstrating just how nonchalantly film pirates operate in full view of law enforcers.

The anti-piracy campaign has taken active steps in the past and in recent times. But only serous jail time and massive monetary fines for offenders will instill fear in them.

1.Water-tight security measures in single screens, where most instances of the master print of the pirated version are shot

2.The recent initiative by the CBFC appealing to filmmakers to submit DCPs of films for certification is good progress. Unfortunately, it has been facing some resistance due to the cost involved.

3.The recent blanket ban and closure of Torrent sites has been a big step in reigning in piracy as it was one of the most convenient ways for people to watch pirated content

4.The ‘intermediary suit’ launched by the law, according to which all Internet Service Providers were asked to ensure that any pirated film was not supplied to be circulated using their networks, will also give a major boost to anti-piracy movement in India

Ultra Media has been in the business of acquisition and syndication of content on a global basis for the past 35 years. We have always ensured that all our transactions, contracts and legal documents are watertight in all legal aspects, starting with the title deed of the previous owner.

A complete due diligence is undertaken throughout the process. To discourage piracy, Ultra also upgrades content quality through restoration and colour grading of old films. This is especially done for old films, because this will motivate people to buy new, upgraded and better quality content rather than opting for old, scratchy, poor quality, pirated content.

Ultra has also taken legal action against offenders who have pirated our content in the past and will continue to do so.

Hiren Gada 3Hiren Gada, Director, Shemaroo

The film industry is reeling under losses due to online piracy and this needs immediate attention from the government. There is a general lack of focus and importance given to IPR in India, especially for film content copyright. An effective legal framework is needed, which is currently lacking.

Also, there is a general lack of clarity and awareness about the Copyright Law among the enforcement agencies. This results in weak enforcement on ground. The priority given to copyright enforcement by the law enforcement agencies is also less in India.

Another roadblock with digital piracy is that our system is not geared to combat the menace. The objectives of filmmakers are at crossroads with the objectives of ISPs. In general, more piracy means huge data traffic for an ISP and hence lesser cooperation with the law-enforcement agencies, further weakening anti-piracy activities.

Piracy is rampant in India. According to a study, the Indian film industry loses around  Rs.18,000 crore ($2.7 billion) and over 60,000 jobs every year due to piracy. This loss is almost 35 per cent more than the legitimate size of the Indian film industry. In recent times, pre-release leaks have become a recurring phenomenon, which is disturbing. This is further aggravated by a lack of strong legal framework, resulting in huge losses for all players in the value chain.

More than the loopholes, it is weak enforcement on-ground by the law-enforcement agencies and the lack of priority given to IPR in general in India that encourages piracy.

The Union Cabinet recently approved India’s first Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy. It remains to be seen how soon the objectives of the IPR policy are achieved with respect to the Media & Entertainment industry by setting up a strong legal framework. Efficient implementation and focused approach towards handling this menace will be the key here.

Currently, many legal sources are available to consume content. This certainly helps curb piracy to some extent. Also, with a plethora of such services in the pipeline, with good quality content, consumers could prefer such legal destinations instead of resorting to piracy. This means added data traffic for ISPs which could incentivise them to cooperate with law-enforcement agencies as they would not be losing out.

A dedicated ‘copyright cell’, where complainants can register all complaints relating to copyright infringement can help bring much-needed focus to tackling piracy. Also, police officers in the country need to be oriented towards the importance of IPR and the corresponding losses associated with it.

We have an on-ground vigilance/anti-piracy team that works very closely with the law-enforcement agencies to curb piracy. Also, we try and push the agenda of anti-piracy through various industry forums.

aditya-choukesyAditya Chowksey, Head of Domestic Distribution, Reliance Entertainment

Piracy and lack of sufficient screens are the biggest problems of Indian cinema, and Hindi cinema in particular. We have a population of more than 130 crore but only four crore people watch a blockbuster like Sultan in cinema halls.

Major revenue is lost due to piracy and paucity of cinemas. If Rs.300 crore in net box office is generated when a negligible percentage of people watch films in cinema halls, imagine how much revenue could be earned if a major chunk of the population had the option to go to cinemas.

Piracy can be curbed by strict government rules and a wider release base. Today, in the Hindi heartland, we have 1,000 towns and cities with a population of more than 50,000 but no cinemas at all. Construction of cinemas is the only way forward for the Indian film industry. We are facing stiff competition from Hollywood films. Our revenue needs to increase manifold so that we have budgets to mount our films the way Hollywood does.

ayan-roy-choudhury-sony-picturesAyan Roy Chowdhury, Director, Legal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, India

recent months, the Indian film industry has seen the most virulent attacks of film piracy and the inability of the institutions concerned to contain it and its direct effect on business. Piracy, historically, has co-existed with creativity, innovation and development, much like an alter ego of humanity. The losses from piracy of music and movies in India are approximately $4 billion per year as per an USTR 2016 report.

The industry has become almost indifferent to the usual video piracy. Today, the bigger threat is online piracy and that too prior to the theatrical release of a film. In the Trade Policy Forum (TPF) joint statement by the Indian and US governments in 2015, both countries “agreed to deepen cooperation on copyright, recognising the shared interest of the largest entertainment industries in the world to promote and protect their artistic and creative content”.

At the ground level, for Indian producers, it has become a norm to approach the courts, before every film release, to seek preemptive orders by filing John Doe cases, to be sent to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for blocking online pirate links after the theatrical release of a film, for the limited effort of containing piracy in India.

John Doe, in copyright infringement suits filed against ISPs and cable operators, means ‘persons unknown’ who might be involved in or abating piracy. As far as availability of the infringing contents online for the rest of the world is concerned, the same still remains available even if the links are blocked in India. The activity of tracing pirate sites has led to an entire new business to prevent online piracy, at least to a large extent by sending notices to the infringing sites and/or the ISPs for blocking the links if not the sites.

However, in the last few months, starting with Udta Punjab, the trend of piracy has changed from being pirated online after release to be being pirated before release. In Udta Punjab, piracy took place two days before the film’s theatrical release, whereas in Great Grand Masti, it was three weeks prior to release, forcing the producers to advance the theatrical release date.

It was in these cases that the ineffectiveness of the John Doe orders from the enforceability perspective came to the fore. For Great Grand Masti, in spite of a court order, and the same being notified to ISPs, barring a few, they refused to fully comply and failed to block the sites which had either ignored the notices or refused to take down the infringing contents.

The speed and ferocity with which the infringing sites mushroomed once the content of the film was leaked on bit torrent sites was phenomenal; it became virtually impossible to contain the infringing links and sites showing the content, thereby resulting in massive losses, both from overseas theatrical revenue as well as domestic revenue.These instances of pre-release piracy of films reflect the urgent need for us to curb piracy. The judiciary and the government machinery including specialised cyber cells need to appreciate that the response time to tackle such piracy has to be quicker – quicker than the pirates – to save investments in these entertainment products, failing which the orders are reduced to merely paper orders and the action is taken too late.

The law per se needs to change and make piracy, which threatens investments worth millions, a stringently punishable criminal offence with equally stringent economic penalties for direct or indirect support for piracy. The recent governmental order to punish the end consumer accessing pirate sites, is definitively a step in the right direction but half-hearted because the process of punishment provided in the law is itself so long that a film producer is least likely to pursue the end consumer. The government needs to design a legal system that is suited to be fast, effective and preventive rather than mired in procedural complexities.

However, the latest change in the submission of films to the censor only through Digital Cinema Package, a specific tool to submit films to the CBFC, is a welcome measure to secure the logistical chain in film exhibition before theatrical release to control piracy.

The Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), which represents major film studios of the US, has been working closely with exhibitors to educate them against cam-cording and using watermarking technology to track sources of leaked content.

MPAA intends to work closely with the government to take more techno-savvy steps to help prevent film piracy and limit its spread. The menace is so enormous that the market size of film piracy is bigger than the size of the film industry itself! The industry needs to work with the other stakeholders to evolve a more innovative and cooperative way to curb piracy while protecting innovation in the online space.

paramdeep-singh-co-founder-and-executive-chairman-saavnParamdeep Singh, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, Saavn

Piracy is a threat that shakes the music industry to its core. When people share music illegally, artistes don’t get paid for their work. If left unchecked, many talented artists would not be able to afford to create the music that people love so much.

In India, music piracy levels have hovered around 65 per cent, meaning that those who create new content are not compensated for their efforts in nearly two-thirds of all music transactions in the country. In 2015, the amount of pirated music in India alone was approximately US$4 billion.

It is important to have a strong legal framework to protect intellectual property, but it is equally important to harness technology to ensure that these laws are enforced. Saavn is helping tackle this by making sure that legal and affordable ways of consuming music are readily available to everyone.

Combating piracy needs to be a priority. Saavn is serious about changing the culture around music consumption. We help people listen to their favorite songs without breaking the bank, so that artistes can be compensated for creating the music that people love.

In India, where piracy is rampant and physical distribution is dead, digital music services like Saavn are often the only way labels and artistes can see some of that revenue reclaimed. By making free music available to anyone with access to the Internet, Saavn is paving the way for millions to access their favorite entertainment legally.

mr-rajesh-mishra-ceo-ufo-moviez-1Rajesh Mishra, CEO - Indian Operations, UFO Moviez

Piracy has always been a huge concern for the film industry. It eats up a major portion of the revenue of the films, as a result of which the growth of the industry as a whole is affected. As per recent reports in newspapers, the estimated revenue industry loses due to piracy is about $2.7 billion annually, which is a huge amount.

We need to have stringent anti-piracy laws and ensure that they are enforced at an individual level too. With the advent of digital cinema, piracy has been eliminated to a large extent. UFO Moviez’ widespread delivery of first-day, first-show films across geographies has helped curb piracy as non-availability of the movie was a major factor which was allowing piracy to flourish. The availability of the movie at a theatre near to them has brought the audience back to the theatres, which in turn has increased the box office collections. The threat of piracy has also significantly reduced, due to UFO Moviez’ secure technology, as the movie is fully encrypted and there is no manual handling involved since the films are delivered directly via satellite to cinemas across the country. Our technology also provides accurate and secure reporting of playback details to ensure that there are no unauthorised screenings.

To further discourage and prevent piracy in the film industry, UFO Moviez has pioneered the concept of invisible watermarking. Each theatre-server displays a unique invisible fingerprint when projecting the digital movie on the screen in a non-intrusive manner. Using this technology security feature, it is possible to trace, from a pirated CD or DVD, the name and location of the theatre where the film was illegally videographed, along with other co-ordinates like time, date, etc, thus, helping to crack down on piracy. It is also necessary to create awareness about piracy. All these steps will go a long way in eliminating piracy.

amar-butala-ceo-salman-khan-filmsAmar Butala, COO, Salman Khan Films

Piracy continues to be a huge problem. This year, Balaji Motion Pictures was hurt not once but twice with their films being pirated before release. Piracy is such a big problem that overnight, it kills the profitability of a film and ensures that it has little chance at the box office.

The process by which we censor our films and the early digital mastering means the risk of piracy is always around the corner. Our films are moving around freely on DVDs while it waits for the censors, and more often than not, once the cuts are made the film goes back for distribution, where films get mastered in various formats. Again, it is out of the producer’s hands and moving freely from studio to studio with no real policing. The censor board has at long last decided to accept films on DCPs, which is a first step – but there are several holes we still need to plug in the overseas censor process and during mastering.

As producers, we tend to focus on piracy once the film is in cinemas. We hire agencies to monitor and report piracy but it’s more like shadow boxing. The real damage has been done in the pre-release phase. We need stronger laws and implementation. Unfortunately, till we are seriously taken as a industry, we will continue to get this treatment from law enforcement agencies. Piracy is still considered a victimless crime and not taken seriously.


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