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Saturday, June 30, 2001

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Video pirates having a field day

By Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

The success of Bollywood-blockbusters `Gadar' and `Lagaan' seems to have come as a shot in the arm for video pirates, who appear to be having a field run at the expense of the makers and distributors of these movies. Illegal prints of both films are not only available in the market but are also being shown blatantly on the cable by the operators.

This open piracy is only an indicator of how organised groups both within and outside the country are involved in the racket. If Aamir Khan believed that he would be able to check piracy of `Lagaan' by obtaining a court stay on its screening over the cable networks, he would have by now realised the extent to which the racket is spread.

Even in Delhi, the Capital, which has several monitoring organisations to check cable piracy, the prints of `Lagaan' are being shown by operators. So has also been the case with Zee Telefilms `Gadar'. What is most worrying is that cable operators appear to be exercising complete control over the system. Or else, how could Gadar have been shown over Siti Cable network, which is owned by Zee Telefilms, in Sector 12 of R.K. Puram in South Delhi?

The fact remains that it is the small cable operators who are showing these movies through their own compact disc players or video cassette recorders. Mr S.K. Singhla of Siti Cable, while stating that the illegal screening was not in his knowledge, points out that whenever information is received raids are conducted with the help of the police by teams which have been constituted by interested groups such as the Motion Pictures Association and the Indian Music Association.

The racket is not confined to cable operators alone. Much more damage is caused by gangs involved in large-scale piracy of prints. These are the groups which have flooded the market with illegal prints of both movies.

Police officers say it is the faulty system of film releases which is to be blamed for the malaise. ``The international rights are given by producers with scant regard for local distributors. While films are released in places such as Singapore, Malaysia and Pakistan on Tuesdays, they are released in India on Fridays. Thus the video pirates get three full days to make illegal prints and put those into circulation in India and abroad.'' It is for this reason that illegal CD prints of `Lagaan' and `Gadar' are now available despite their makers not releasing them on CDs or video cassettes.

The Deputy Commissioner of Police (Economic Offences Wing) of Crime Branch, Mr Dinesh Bhatt, says screening of illegal prints is covered under the Copyrights Act and also constitutes an offence of cheating under the Indian Penal Code. Noting that anyone can make a complaint to the police, who are also empowered to act on their own, he believes the general public can really help fight this nuisance.

The officer says the police are also in regular touch with the various organisations involved in fighting video piracy. Incidentally, it was on a tip-off provided by Mr. Satish Kapoor, Chairman of "Prime Protection" firm, that the Delhi police had seized 8,000 CDs of Hrithik Roshan-Karisma Kapoor starrer ``Fiza'' in September last.

The 8,000 pirated prints, an equal number of inlay cards, and two stampers were seized from Indira Gandhi International Airport from a transit passenger of Pakistan, Mohammad Quasim Khan, while he was carrying the consignment to Kathmandu. The two stampers were an important part of the catch since with each over 50,000 illegal CDs could have been recorded.

Quasim had disclosed that the pirated CDs -- which were worth Rs. 35 lakh -- were being made in Pakistan, where copyright laws do not exist. The seized CDs had been manufactured at Sadar CD Centre and Rambo Centre located on Sadar Road in Karachi. He told the investigating agencies that normally CDs are sent from Karachi to Kathmandu, where they are packed and sent to India by road.

Some of the CDs are also despatched to places such as Malaysia, Singapore, Britain and the U.S. which have a large South Asia migrant population. As the money involved is big, even the underworld has got associated with video piracy.

With the recent seizure of pirated CDs in Mumbai it has become clear that video piracy continues to be a lucrative trade, which can be curbed only through a concerted efforts.

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