Those jumpy, grainy prints

Updated: Oct 31 2006, 05:30am hrs
Bollywoods biggest nightmare simply doesnt seem to end. It isnt flops, empty halls or starry tantrums thats furrowing the film capitals brows, but those shady pirates peeping out of Indian bylanes or operating out of Middle Eastern and Far Eastern video parlours, who hawk DVDs, CDs and VCDs at throwaway prices barely hours after the film has first screened.

Understandably, Indian filmmakers are a disgruntled lot. Pirated films result in enormous losses for the Indian movie industry, which produces an estimated 900 films a year. The annual revenue, including overseas rights and music rights, is estimated at $1.3 billion, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), and is slated to touch $2.9 bn by 2009. The Rs 3,000 crore Hindi film industry loses nearly Rs 1,000 crore annually to piracy, according to studies by the Television & Film Producers Guild of India and YES Bank.

Piracy involves copying the film in violation of intellectual property rights and reproducing it unlawfully for sale or rental at cheap rates. Legislation to counter piracy includes the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, and the Copyright Act, 1994. India is also a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the Universal Copyright Convention.

Recently, a team of filmmakers and others from the industry called upon Maharashtra home minister RR Patil, asking him to include audio and video piracy under the Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Slumlords, Bootleggers and Drug Offenders Act, 1981, and sought recourse to the Goonda Act on such offences.

Sample current figures. A trading standards team from Londons Ealing Council and the police netted over 21,000 counterfeit Bollywood DVDs, due to be sold in Southall over Diwali and Eid last week. The massive haul, worth up to 80,000 pounds, included copies of the latest Bollywood films and classics. Courier and air-freight boxes from the Far East were also found, suggesting that the films had been imported. Unfortunately, while the Indian film industry mints money overseas and in India, it also means pirates thrive, too. Pirated discs are easily available in most Indian cities and the growing appetite for illegal discs in countries such as Britain, the US and Pakistan never ceases to worry filmmakers.Ive seen my movies pirated in streets abroad. All you need is a master disc and you can duplicate a film. Piracy eats about 25% share of a B-grade film, 10% share of a C-grade film and close to 40% share of an A-grade one. The only thing to do is to legitimise the process by releasing our own DVDs and CDs months before the film releases, feels filmmaker Subhash Ghai.

Yashraj Films, which reportedly lost close to $1.5 million in DVD sales from Veer Zara alone, has taken a tougher tack. It set up offices in the UK in 1997 and in the US in 1998, working closely with local police to identify shops stocking pirated discs. In the past two years, spice and gift stores in Chicago, California and Virginia storing pirated VCDs and CDs have been raided. In the UK, pirated discs have been seized from video stores and grocery shops in Southall, Wembley, East London, Manchester and Bradford.

Films in India are often pirated from actual prints or masters; counterfeiting from the original DVDs occurs later. It sounds unreal, but true. Pirates control between 50-70% of the market share, so survival is tough. The only solution is to beat them with day-date releases, which means having more prints and ensuring that films reach even smaller centres in India, feels Ronnie Screwvala of UTV.

Pirates in the UK and the US have been fined up to $50,000 and jail terms of up to three years. Lawbreakers in India have been jailed for up to two years, but most are let off with a paltry fine of Rs 1,000. India remains on the US Trade Representatives Special 301 Priority Watch List primarily because of weak IP enforcement that negatively affects the copyright industry in general. The new Watch List report says, India took a significant positive step toward strengthening patent protections when it promulgated a temporary Patent Amendment Ordinance at the end of 2004 and then passed permanent legislation in early 2005.

In March 2006, raids by the Dutch police in Rotterdam uncovered more than 140,000 pirated CDs and DVDs of Indian movies and music in 13 shops. Consignments are often shipped across Europe. In many cases in India and abroad, disc writing equipment to replicate movies and music has been seized. Discs are often smuggled overseas in airline hand luggage. In Pakistan, investigators seized more than 400,000 pirated discs, cassettes, and 10,000 master discs and shut down six illegal plants in Karachi in May 2006.

According to Willem van Adrichem, the Dubai-based regional coordinator for the International Federation of Phonographic Industry (Ifpi), there are major efforts on in India and Pakistan to clamp down on piracy. Ifpi conducts seminars on piracy and holds training sessions for customs and police officers from India. On the roads of China, pirated Bollywood movies are sold for Rs 42. A study by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) says China heads the list of worst offenders, with a 93% prevalence rate. India comes in ninth.

There is a way to beat pirates at their own game, though. Digitisation is the only solution. Theres no physical print and pirates cant copy them because they have no access to the digitised format, explains Raaja Kanwar, director and vice-chairman, UFO Moviez. Digitising screens is UFO Moviez primary business; it costs about Rs 15 lakh to digitise a screen. Adds Kanwar: By 2008, we hope to digitise 2,000 theatres in India and are hoping it will curb piracy to a great extent and help increase our revenues considerably, even to Rs 6,000-7,000 crore, globally. We will fight piracy and ensure a film reaches audiences on the day of release itself. We have released 146 films in eight languages so far.

Producer Sajid Nadiadwalas film Jaan-e-Mann tied up with UFO Moviez to fight piracy in Bollywood. UFO took away the possibility of piracy. Our tie-up is a celebration of technology and entertainment coming together.

Manmohan Shetty of Adlabs feels that unless stringent laws are put in place and the public is more discerning about the quality of films they watch (pirated DVDs will naturally have poorer print quality), its not going to be easy. Digitisation might be a great solution, but it is an expensive proposition even now for lots of exhibitors and unless the price of equipment comes down, it might not be a viable option for some. Luckily, this year, good content in films has meant more footfalls in theatres and the film industry has raked in good profits.

It might help to have stricter laws, too. For instance, video piracy in Tamil Nadu has ceased to be blatantly open. There are no public sales of pirated video CDs or DVDs. They are available everywhere, but very discreetly. This fear was instilled by including video piracy as an offence under the Goonda Act last year. Armed with this tough law, the police can come down heavily on any suspect. Besides this, the Copyright Act, 1957, the Tamil Nadu Exhibition of Films on TV Screen through VCRs and Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act, 1984 and the Cinematography Act, 1952 are invoked.

According to Ananda Suresh, a leading filmmaker: The government action created a scare among potential offenders. Though video piracy cannot be totally eradicated, it has been considerably reduced and the industry has benefited from it. At present, 12 units of the polices video piracy cell, created in 1995, are actively functioning through the state under the direct control of the additional director-general, crime, Chennai. The government has directed that the cells services should be utilised to check violations relating to the Copyright Act or Information Technology Act, 2000. The cell also co-ordinates with the customs department at international airports in the state to curb smuggling of pirated DVDs/VCDs. Data shows 53 such cases were booked in 2004. In 2005, there were 13 cases. In 2006, up to April 30, there were only three.

Pakistani filmmaker Hasan Zaidi, who is also organiser of the Karachi film festival, says its easy to buy CDs or DVDs of pirated Indian movies in Pakistan in spite of a ban on Bollywood films there. Daniel Glickman, chief executive of the MPAA, stresses the need for cooperation between the police, judiciary and lawmakers. Piracy affects not just Hollywood and not just big films. It affects local filmmakers, too, he said during the Ficci-Frames conference earlier this year.

Ficci has set up a panel of representatives of the film and music industries and government officials. The panel is drafting anti-piracy legislation and Ficci is organising seminars for judges and police to help them understand the extent of piracy. A beginning has been made, but its still an arduous, uphill job.