Anant Mathur Presents...

Piracy Hits Film Industry Hard

“MUMBAI: When the police raided the control rooms of two well-known cable operators in the western suburbs around midnight a month ago, it was a sting operation with a difference. The men in khakhi were this time around accompanied by 20 film producers, the newest entrant in the anti-piracy movement.

Film producers,whose revenues have already been hit by recession and poor showing at the box-office, are now feeling the pinch of piracy. Pirates gobble up 60 per cent or Rs 800 crore of the industry's revenue every year.

The producers' initiative follows several tried-butfailed formulas -from court injunctions against illegal screening of new films on cable networks to appointing private security agencies to track down pirates to signing pacts with operators not to show films until a year after their release.

“Every method has failed so far. Hence, we, producers decided to take up the fight ourselves,” says Anil Nagrath of the Association of Motion Pictures & TV Programme Producers (AMPTPP). Last month, 4,000 association members floated an anti-piracy cell- complete with a team of inspectors to sniff out information about illegal consignments of video compact discs (VCDs) and screening of new films on cable networks.

It's not just the producers, the whole recession-hit entertainment industry is working on safeguarding its investments from pirates.Actors Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan have lent their star appeal to public interest advertisements against illegal screening of films. Even the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), which have been organising conferences on the business of entertainment, plan to set up antipiracy cells.

The Ficci cell, which will reportedly be headed by former Mumbai police commissioner Ronnie Mendonca, will collect one per cent cess from members to spearhead operations. “We need at least Rs 20 crore to fight piracy in an organised manner,” says producer-director Yash Chopra, who is associated with the Ficci effort. But will these new initiatives click where others have failed? Industry observers are sceptical as the pirates have time and again used technology to get ahead in the race.

According to Amit Khanna, who has been fighting copyright theft for the past 20 years, the problem will get worse in an age of broadband. People would then be able to download films via the Internet - a scenario Hollywood producers are waking up to, especially after the music industry's trial with Napster.

Julio Ribeiro, who has been heading the Indian music industry's anti-piracy cell for the past five years, admits that technology gives pirates the edge. “We have so far managed to bring down music piracy from 90 per cent to 40 per cent, but we don't know how to tackle MP3,” he says. The unfortunate truth for the film industry is that while movie-making has become more expensive, technology has made the exercise of piracy cheaper. All a pirate needs to set up shop is video CD writer.

“Depending on the capacity of the CD writer, an operator can make between five to 25 copies from a master copy of the film in three minutes,” says Ravi from Feature Films Copyright, a private security agency. Thus, the market can be flooded with at least a lakh of VCDs within 24 hours - sometimes a day before the film's release. The pirates manage this seemingly impossible task because of the overseas market. An overseas release requires producers to send master copies of their films for the local censorship board's approval a week in advance.

“The films are normally sent on Monday night and this is the point of leak. By Thursday, pirated CDs and VCDs are available in the markets,” says a producer, who is also an exhibitor.

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