Rajkumar, chairman of AP anti-piracy cell, talks about online piracy and the need to introduce stringent laws to fight the battle. It’s a long road ahead!
Of late, a lot of people have begun addressing the issue of piracy. Do you feel that you are fighting a lost battle, since it can’t be curbed completely?
I agree that tackling piracy is not an easy task. But I assure you that we are seeing good results in recent times. If I could draw an analogy, just because completely eliminating crime from society may not be possible, we cannot say policing is not required. You need to have more effective policing to check crime. And also, you need to secure greater public participation. Similarly, for tackling piracy, on one hand, we need stringent laws suitable for the digital era and on the other, we need more awareness about the seriousness of the issue among all. As we strive to achieve these, I don’t think it’s a losing battle. In the digital space, tracing people who upload or download illegal content on the internet becomes easier because everyone leaves a trail behind. Compared to this, it’s far more difficult to catch people who pirate movies and music in the physical form due to logistic and jurisdictional issues. Hence, we are adopting a zero-tolerance approach towards the source of piracy. We have busted three major piracy syndicates in the last three months and shut down one cinema house for camcording.
The anti-piracy cell was created back in 2005 and so far, the AP Film Chamber of Commerce has managed to make the government introduce new laws to combat piracy. What keeps you going, despite all the hurdles you face?
Four years ago, online piracy wasn’t big, but it’s not the case anymore. Technology is proliferating very fast and with that, the way people consume content is changing completely. We are looking at a 100 crore internet users who could consume the content, be it movies or music. There’s an urgent need to understand all this and adapt to the change. The industry and the governments are being very slow to adopt change. The greatest challenge is to put the issue of piracy and its implications in proper perspective for everyone. Despite all the hurdles, we must note that the Telugu film industry has several distinctions with regard to our anti-piracy initiatives. It has won appreciation from other film industries, in India and even Hollywood. We must be doing something right. We have set up a dedicated cyber piracy cell, which is going from strength to strength and is even servicing Hollywood studios. It is a matter of pride for all of us. It is breakthroughs like these that help us believe and keep going.
At the same time, we are continuously evolving. We are continuously learning and adopting. And each time we are putting one more step forward in the right direction. I only wish we achieve more pace. For example, there was a state legislation against Piracy, The AP Exhibition of Films on Television through Video Cassette recorders Act 1993, which makes it mandatory to obtain a license to run a video store. The act was brought in mid 90s, but the rules were passed after 13 years thanks to the tremendous efforts by our former Chairman of Anti- Video Piracy Cell, Shyam Prasad Reddy.
There’s a school of thought which says that there’s no harm in pirating a film, if it’s a substandard film or if the filmmaker himself has plagiarized several scenes from other sources. How do you react to that argument?
I would say it’s a rather naïve and narrow argument. Just because we suspect someone might be doing some wrong, we do not and cannot knowingly commit a crime. In any case, honestly, I don’t see a relation between the two issues. Let’s say, hypothetically, that some filmmaker has plagiarized or got inspired from other sources, but he’s putting his name on the final product. If the original creator wants to file a case for copyright infringement, he or she can do so using all the possible legal machinery. That doesn’t give you a right to download or share illegal content. These are two different issues. It’s about whether we want to make a positive contribution or a negative contribution to society. Either way, we must remember that it will all come back to us.
People might think that they aren’t doing any harm to the filmmakers by downloading illegal content, but they don’t understand the implications. With internet and intellectual property rights permeating every sphere of our lives, we could soon be at the receiving end. I said narrow argument, because when we say something like this, we are losing sight of the bigger picture. We are entering an age where there would be innumerous content creators. Be it music or movies, anyone with creative abilities can create content digitally and can monetize it digitally. Only if we have an ecosystem where our copyrights are fully respected and protected can we enjoy the benefits and get all the rewards. So the issue concerns each one of us in the society, not just few filmmakers. It is these misconceptions that need to be removed. That is possible when we have a sustained debate on piracy with all concerned.
When you say debate on piracy, what exactly are you referring to?
At times, we fail to listen to some of the genuine concerns of the audiences too. Not everyone loves to watch pirated movies. The audiences are sometimes compelled to opt for a pirate version, due to the non-availability of a legal version. We have to understand the basic reason why people download illegal stuff. And try to remove those hurdles. In order to understand the audiences’ compulsions, the film industry needs to engage in a dialogue with the audiences. The dialogue itself is more important than anything. We get better understanding and we are better understood. Stopping piracy and monetizing content through other legal digital platforms like pay-per-view, video on demand, IPTV, mobiles, Home Video are two important things which all the stakeholders have to debate upon. We have to make an attempt to accommodate any valid arguments and change accordingly. At the same time, we want people to appreciate the concerns of the industry about the issue of piracy and provide support. Only then, our efforts will have greater meaning.
It must have been an arduous task for you to stream your plans in the initial days. Do you believe that you have come a long way from that state?
Initially, our approach was different. We had greater emphasis on Enforcement alone. And we were largely waging a solo battle. But now we have chalked out short term and long term strategies. We are adopting a multi pronged approach. We are using technology to good effect to combat piracy. We are forging partnerships with other agencies, industries and organizations who share the same concern. In the last one year, I think we have achieved good progress. We signed an MoU with MPA (Motion Picture Association). We are working closely with the US Government. We are working closely with the FICCI ( Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) , CII ( Confederation of Indian Industry), ICC ( International Chambers of Commerce )’s BASCAP ( Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy. We are collaborating with film industries in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.
We feel that we have greater strength now and superior understanding of the problem and better approach. At the same time, the film makers also need to take note of the fact that every single time, a producer or a director has shown greater interest in protecting their content; the results are out there to be seen. In the past, makers of Arundhathi, Magadheera, Dookudu and Eega took several steps to curb piracy. The urge to protect content should come from the filmmakers first for the industry, the government and the people to support him.
You talk about the need to introduce stringent laws. What exactly do you have in mind?
Our laws are still ambiguous when it comes to addressing digital theft and copyright infringement. We still don’t have an anti camcording law. We missed a great opportunity when the Copyright Act was amended after decades. The Indian film industry could not fully utilise that opportunity. But we can not afford to miss such opportunities in future. We have an upcoming Round Table Conference in New Delhi later this month on anti-camcording legislation with the participation of entire Indian film industry and even I&B and HRD ministries. In countries like UK, France, US and Japan, there are some very strict laws which gives the power to law enforcers to take immediate action. In fact, France has some of the strongest anti-piracy laws in the world. Just two weeks ago, on the October 1, Japan has passed a law which makes even downloading illegal content a punishable offence, with two years imprisonment and penalties. More than anything, these measures act as deterrents to people indulging in piracy. There’s a lot we can emulate from such developed countries. It is no coincidence that all developed nations have better intellectual property laws, better enforcement and greater respect for copyrights.
Talking about other countries, do you see an opportunity for our filmmakers to reach out to newer markets?
Yes, of course! Last month, I was at Hollywood’s Regional Strategy summit in Vietnam where delegates from 14 APAC countries had met to discuss about several issues related to content protection. They were delighted by the visuals from some of the Telugu films that I had shown in my presentation. We do have the potential to wow audiences across the globe. There’s obviously a big scope to reach out to newer markets, be it Europe, Africa, Korea or Japan. We talk about globalization and how the world has shrunk. But we are not fully utilizing the opportunities it presents. Let’s consider a Kolaveri Di or a Gangnam Style. They prove to us that creativity can cut across all boundaries. The pan India success of Eega should be a great confidence booster. A great idea will find its audience. We are also overtly dependent on Box Office revenues alone, while the world is aggressively exploiting other avenues. We need to come out of our comfort zones and make an effort to reach out to a global audience.
So what’s next on your list of things to do?
(Laughs) We have to understand that instant results are not possible. We need to keep doing the good work and build on it. We need to engage people and secure their support. We need to have the laws in place. It’s a long journey ahead. Keep the faith!.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Hemanth writes primarily about Telugu cinema, although he finds inspiration from the works of filmmakers like Woody Allen. Apart from writing, he spends most of his time on Twitter discussing about cinema, travel and life in Hyderabad.