“Video market is being treated as a poor cousin of the film industry”

Armed with a shoulder-strung carry bag, Meeran (name changed) walks into an apartment block that he frequents. By the time he comes out, he has sold nearly 10 pirated DVDs. His brother runs a shop which makes a business of Rs.1,000 to Rs.1,500 a day. But regular customers can avail themselves the privilege of his visit to their homes.

Film buffs like Madhankumar Subbiah, who buys DVDs, say the proliferation of multiplexes means a significant number of people cannot afford to go to the cinema regularly. “On the other hand, a whole family can watch the movie spending just Rs.30 on a pirated DVD. I feel that this trend would continue unless ticket prices are reduced,” he adds.

Depending on which side of the copyright debate you are on, Meeran is either a pirate who is a making a dent on the film industry's profits or a trader who is trying to take advantage of a backlash against monopolistic tendencies in the entertainment industry.

According to sources in the Video Piracy Wing of the Central Crime Branch, Puducherry is the headquarters of the illegal piracy business. Multiple copies are made using the master prints from the overseas rights agreement and distributed to various parts of Tamil Nadu.

CCB's Video Piracy Wing, in the last one year, has booked 234 cases and arrested 279 persons, of which 23 have been booked under the Goondas Act.

To understand piracy, it has to be placed in context. G. Dhananjayan, Chief Operating Officer, Moser Baer Entertainment, says the opportunity is not there for the consumer to buy the original. “Tamil cinema is not encouraging other modes of revenue generation. Unlike anywhere else in the country, producers get into agreements with satellite networks to release it on television before a DVD release.”

The DVD release window is usually six months after the release in theatres. According to him, the video market is being treated as a poor cousin of the industry. Kerala, for example, he says has a thriving video market because the release window is 90 to 100 days after the release in theatres.

Though movies are meant to be viewed in theatres, digital technologies have enabled a segment of movie watchers who prefer to enjoy the experience through on-demand or even streaming content.

Nishant Shah, Director, Centre for Internet and Society, says that attempts at controlling piracy are futile. The digital technologies that we are working with are intuitively designed for copying, dissemination and sharing.

According to him, copyright is not a pre-given frame of reference. It arose, historically and culturally, with the industrialisation of information and came into being so strongly because of the possibilities and limitations of analogue technologies.

He says media conglomerates that “try to imagine the consumer as monolithic and unchanging, and accuse them of piracy and theft, will only alienate the audience.” It is a move that fails to recognise the changing dynamics of cultural economies, he adds.