Special Correspondent

Hundreds of video-lending libraries remain closed following raids

KOCHI: Hundreds of video-lending libraries that closed shutters in the wake of the State-wide drive against video piracy still remain closed.

Many of these libraries some of which had apparently thrived on pirated CD/DVDs have gone out of business, while others are reluctant to open for fear of police raids.

The Kerala Video Library Association, which claims that there used to be around 30,000 libraries before the raids, says that owners of the libraries and their staff are on the "brink of destitution." On Thursday, district and State-level leaders of the association staged a `starvation agitation' in front of the Secretariat to highlight the video libraries' plight.

M. Basheer, president of the association, told The Hindu that the libraries did not want to reopen as they dreaded police harassment. The closure had started in the first week of December, but had picked up momentum by Christmas. "Thousands of video libraries have not reopened after Christmas." Nearly 5,000 had permanently gone out business, he said

"We are being penalised for the CD/DVD manufacturers' faults," he alleged. "It is the manufacturers who bring out fake CD/DVDs and how can us be responsible for that?"

He said some 600 cases were registered against library owners.

Mr. Basheer, who owns a library at Thodupuzha, was himself arrested on the charge of lending pirated CD/DVDs. He, like others, is out on bail now.

The beginning

The police crackdown on video-lending libraries across the State followed the November raid on a studio owned by a senior police officer's wife in Kochi. The studio was accused of making and distributing pirated CD/DVD of movies.

The raid triggered a political row as well as dramatic situations at the higher echelons of the State police. For a few weeks after the raid on the Kochi studio, a large number of video libraries were searched and bagfuls of pirated CD/DVDs were seized. In protest, library owners all over the State had closed shutters. This had a spiralling impact on the business, which is now down in the dumps.

The Gulf boom was one of the reasons for the mushrooming of video libraries in the State. More recently, the digital revolution gave a boost to the business.

The association has urged the Government to lay down clear guidelines for the smooth functioning of the libraries. "We don't even mind the Government introducing a licensing procedure exclusively for the video libraries," Mr. Basheer said. "But, there should be some clear rules and regulations so that the police cannot just walk in, seize our stock-in-trade and arrest us," he said.

The association leaders had met a couple of Ministers to find a solution to the imbroglio, but in vain.

Meanwhile, a large number of the libraries remain closed and the future of the business remains uncertain.