The piracy nightmare

A look at the losses to the film industry thanks to smartphones, camcorders and hi-tech projectors

August 27, 2016 03:43 pm | Updated 07:22 pm IST

Mappla Singam

Mappla Singam

2016 is turning out to be a terrible year for filmmakers. Piracy is affecting the industry globally and is spreading like wildfire. The estimated yearly revenue loss globally is to the tune of US$ 5-6 billion . According to some estimates, the Indian industry too is bleeding as much as to $2.7 billion annually.

There is no doubt that piracy has eaten into the business of cinema. This year, it has affected films even before their release. There were widespread allegations that the piracy of films like Udta Punjab , which found their way to torrent sites ahead of their theatrical releases, were actually the handiwork of some in the censor board.

The films most affected by piracy this year are Udta Punjab , Great Grand Masti and Sultan in Hindi, and 24 and Kabali in Tamil. In the case of Udta Punjab and Great Grand Masti , the piracy affected the film even before its release!

Meanwhile, 24 and Kabali’ s leaks are said to have taken place after the first day first show of the film. According to a press release issued by Qube, the popular digital cinema provider, forensic watermarking showed that 24 was illegally recorded during the morning show on its release day at a popular multiplex chain’s screen in a Bengaluru mall.

Earlier this year, Vemal’s Mapla Singam was leaked a month before its release. But what is shocking is that more and more Tamil films are getting leaked online. As per trade analysts, the reason for the sharp decline in collections for star-driven movies after the opening weekend is piracy.

Earlier, the origin of pirated copies emerged from prints sent to overseas markets, which made their way into Tamil Nadu only a day after release there. In recent times, this has changed, largely due to technology.

A large number of individuals based in Bengaluru and parts of Tamil Nadu, seem to be indulging in piracy using smartphones or camcorders or even E-projectors (not 2K or 4K) to record from theatres in small towns. According to a recent survey carried out by the anti-piracy cell, pirated movies in India are today seen more “on the move, in trains and planes, on smartphones and laptops”.

Today, big film producers get a ‘John Doe’ order from a court before release. It means the onus is on the Internet service provider (ISP) to block access to every website/torrent site that may facilitate illegal downloads of a movie. Dealing with piracy and copyright issues in the digital world is a tricky and futile business. If you shut down a few torrent sites, others mushroom just hours later.

Producer, distributor and exhibitor Abirami Ramanathan, who recently spoke on this issue, says, “We have caught nearly 20 theatres in Tamil Nadu for abetting piracy, and some of them were charged with the Goonda Act. But after a few weeks, the persons concerned came out on bail. At a certain multiplex chain in Bengaluru, as many as seven Tamil films were pirated over the course of two months. The multiplex chain claims it was done by unknown individuals withouts its knowledge. However, we have moved a criminal case and have solid evidence that it could not have taken place without their knowledge.”

Piracy is now the biggest menace facing Kollywood. The industry, which must stand together to fight it, is however divided over the issue, as the Nadigar Sangam and Tamil Film Producers Council (TFPC) are subscribing to two different viewpoints.

Rajkumar Akella, chairman, Anti-Video Piracy Cell, and head, Rentrak (now comScore)–India, says, “Rapidly growing technology is making the job of pirates easier and simpler by the day. During the post-production stages, content can now be easily copied with a simple pen drive and spread across the world instantly. Sadly, the industry in India is only now coming to terms with the menace.”

Now, how can this issue be tackled effectively? The youth, who are the main consumers of cinema, need to be educated about its ill-effects through knowledge sharing. A statutory warning (like anti-smoking warnings) should be attached to all films too. The government should formulate an aggressive policy to fight piracy. The proposed law that viewing, downloading, exhibiting or duplicating an illicit copy of copyrighted content on a blocked site could attract a three-year prison term and a fine up to Rs.3 lakh, could become a deterrent for perpetrators. Unless the Tamil film industry unites in its fight, the future of the cinema business looks bleak.

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