Pirated CDs, technological advancements have become the bane of the shops

There was a time when visiting the neighbourhood video rental store and selecting one’s favourite video to enjoy a selective viewing experience in the comforts of one’s home was so much part of a holiday. It meant convenience for movie buffs and sustenance for a service sector. But multiple factors have led to the decline of an entire system of experiencing movies.

There are the inevitable waves of change brought about by the rapid technological advancements. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection has instant access to films and is able to stream it without moving out of the house to rent from a limited collection at a store. This trend has threatened the existence of even cinemas, but the video libraries are the first casualty.

The flourishing industry of pirated CDs has also affected the legitimate video store owners who shell out high costs for individual DVDs of English and regional languages movies only to incur huge losses.

P.P. Vinod, the former secretary of the now practically defunct Kerala Video Library Association and former owner of Padma Videos at Ambalamukku, said that the renting fee had never risen above Rs.15. “Say we purchase a DVD for Rs.450. By the sixth or seventh time we lease it, it would have developed scratches and we will not be anywhere near making a profit from the DVD,” he said. Moreover, most clients fail to return the rented DVD on time and store owners are reluctant to levy huge fines because it will mean alienating the few customers left to support this industry.

To overcome this, most stores opted for a way out — making a copy to rent — which will help protect the hardware of the original. But the anti-piracy raids conducted in 2006 saw even these stores being branded in the same league of all pirated CD markets.

The nature of enforcement, store owners said, was draconian. Shops were closed down and legal action taken against owners, citing non-existent provisions of the Copyright Law, they said. Committees were formed and promises made in response to the hue and cry raised by the legitimate vendors, many of whom were forced to turn to other jobs. G.S. Video Library at Sasthamangalam, set up 36 years ago, closed shop two months ago. “Membership had dipped over the years. The vacation time was our one hope but with the Indian Premier League scheduled for the period, there was no option,” said the last owner Shammi Shahmoud.

The owners of existing shops emphasise the need for addressing the root problem, the uncontrolled growth of pirated CD markets. “Once this illegal source is cut off, we will get some breathing space. Most stores have been around for a while and possess a rich collection of old movies as well,” Mr. Vinod said.