Bollywood Industry Piracy

Indian Cinema and the Man with the Midas Touch

Concluding the first day of FICCI Frames, Rohit Shetty skilfully wove in insights from his illustrious career with the current needs and challenges of the Indian screen industry.


A prolific filmmaker, known for bringing mega-blockbusters like Singham, Golmaal, and Simmba to Indian audiences, Mr. Shetty has worked in multiple capacities as a stunt double, assistant director, director and producer.


More Screens Would Greatly Stimulte the Film Industry


With the Indian film industry generating box office revenues crossing INR 10,000 crores over the past year, Mr. Shetty was quick to empahisize the continued relevance of the cinematic experience. However, India’s low screen density continues to remain a major challenge inhibiting the growth of the film industry. Mr. Shetty noted that while his latest film release, Simmba, had been hailed as a blockbuster, generating revenues of nearly INR 240 crores; it only attracted around two crore moviegoers to the theatre.


The highest grossing local films generate a maximum footfall of around four crore moviegoers, representing only a small share of India’s potential cinema audience. In stark comparison, China has managed to increase its total number of theatres from 25,000 to 50,000 over the course of just three years. Assessing this reality, Mr. Shetty emphasized the need for more theatres, especially in small towns – where the nearest theatres tend to be two to three-hours away. Potential cinema audiences are instead turning their attention to pirating films via pirate websites on their mobile devices.


Tackling Piracy


While digital consumption has increased the appetite for quality screen content, and provided more legitimate avenues for easy access, piracy continues. The rampant levels of digital piracy are increasingly difficult to prevent. Mr. Shetty acknowledged the strides made in Central Government regulation and policy to combat piracy, such as the proposed amendment to the Cinematograph Act, proposed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to introduce penalties for camcorder piracy has resonated well with the industry. However, while the passing of the anti-camcording law will go some way to preventing piracy at the source, rampant online piracy will continue to be served by the world’s biggest piracy websites housed outside of India. Mr. Shetty emphasised that piracy will have to be tackled by increasing the levels of awareness among consumers and by involving multiple stakeholders. Notably, the Maharashtra State Police has sought to address piracy by co-opting industry members to check the distribution of infringing copies online.


State Laws Inhibit Growth


The Central Government has now initiated several reforms for the film industry, including lower tax rates, and introducing single-window clearances to improve film production. However state-level laws and policies continue to pose challenges on a variety of fronts: States such as Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have announced local body entertainment taxes on cinema tickets over and above the GST, ranging anywhere between 5 and 15 percent. Where theatre owners continue to struggle with high overheads including maintenance, licensing and construction costs; heavy-handed taxation at the local level adds to their financial burden, hindering the development of the theatrical sector. Some industry stalwarts such as Ajay Devgn and John Abraham have ventured into this sector, identifying tier II and III cities in Uttar Pradesh and Northeast regions as for growth. Acknowledging such efforts, Mr. Shetty stressed the need for a collective multi-stakeholder collaborationto drive theatre penetration, along with focused engagement at the state government level.


Global Quality Standards Remain Just out of Reach

The digital-era has heralded vast improvements in visual effects and post production processes. The latest FICCI-EY study released at the 20th edition of Frames, reports that the animation, VFX and post-production sectors grew at around 18 percent in 2018 to reach INR 78.9 billion in terms of revenues and is expected to reach INR 127.6 billion by 2021. Additionally, Indian producers are now motivated to spend nearly 15-20 percent of their productions budgets on VFX, resulting in better visual effects for domestic conten, yet global post-production standards remain just out of reach. Mr. Shetty quipped, “give me 13,000 crores and I’ll give you a Transformer [franchise].”


As it grapples with complex new challenges, the Indian film industry can perhaps take a leaf out of Mr. Shetty’s book. Donning the twin-hats of producer and director, he considers himself foremost an entertainer and emphasises the need to remain honest in both creative vision and conviction.



Notice & Staydown And Differentiated Intermediary Regulation

Intermediaries such as social-media platforms form an integral part of the consumer-internet ecosystem, and are the primary conduits for distributing and monetising content digitally. A legal ‘clinic’ in the form of a technical workshop at FICCI Frames 2019 evaluated the regulation of intermediaries in India, under the proposed amendment of the ‘Intermediary Guidelines’ under the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000.


Definitions Remain Problematic


The IT Act defines intermediaries broadly, clubbing the distinct services of cloud and hosting services, content services, and network service providers (such as internet and telecom service providers) under the same regime. The safe harbour under Section 79 of the Act applies identically to all such ‘intermediaries’, where they are only liable to take down unlawful content if they have actual knowledge of such content on their services.


As Patrick Charnley of International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) explained, there is currently no distinction in Indian law between active and passive intermediaries. In Europe however, differentiated obligations exist for active intermediaries such as content platforms like Youtube, and passive intermediaries such as cloud and content hosting service providers that have little say in content distribution. In the absence of accurate definitions, intermediary responsibility may be difficult to assign in an effective manner.


Evaluating Continuous Monitoring Obligations for Intermediaries


Gowree Gokhale, Senior Partner at Nishith Desai Associates, explained that prior decisions of the court on intermediary liability for trademark infringement (Kent RO judgment) have clarified that continuous monitoring for infringing content is not envisioned under the law. However, concerns over fake news, national security and copyright infringement have compelled regulators to revisit the limited monitoring obligations of intermediaries. The current proposal for amending the Intermediary Guidelines thus inserts an obligation on intermediaries to engage in technological solutions for actively monitoring content. In the broader context of intellectual property enforcement, Mr. Charnley highlighted that a ‘notice and takedown’ regime is not effective, because it incentivises digital platforms not to act in the absence of ‘actual knowledge’. Instead, the concept of a ‘notice and staydown’ regime works better to ensure the active engagement of content platforms, to keep infringing content from being hosted and distributed through their services.


While EU copyright reforms, specifically, provisions linked to content-upload filters, seek to mitigate infringement of copyrighted content, the Indian parallel under the proposed amendment creates identical obligations for monitoring all types of content. Rajendra Kumar of K&S Partners, clarified that content recognition technologies (or upload filters) which do have the capability of detecting licensed content, cannot yet identify defamatory content (or fake-news). Concomitantly, differentiated responses may need to be carved out for addressing the range of specific enforcement challenges related to proliferation of different types of online content.


Sports Broadcasting

Catalysing the Indian Sports Economy through Broadcasting

“Light-touch regulation is the key to cutting through the clutter of customers and the development of the sports broadcasting industry”       – Matt Kurlanzik, 21st Century Fox

The global market for sports generated around USD 700 billion, or one percent of global GDP in 2014 (KPMG). A 2019 report in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health valued India’s sports market at only USD 2.65 billion – indicating a large upside that is yet to be tapped. Sports-broadcasting contributes a major share to India’s sports market, through sale of broadcasting rights, sponsorships, and creation of private leagues. Therefore, realising greater value in the Indian sports market is contingent on growth of sports-broadcasting.

Unfortunately, India’s sports-broadcasting industry currently suffers from excessive legislation that throttles current market value. For instance, the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007, mandates sharing of private signals of events of ‘national importance’ with the public broadcaster. This leads to the erosion of private broadcasting revenues. Importantly, the legislation does not set any guidelines defining ‘national importance’, often leading to ad-hoc decision-making.

Incongruent Interests

At a FICCI Frames panel titled “Sportsonomics”, Vinit Karnik, Business Head – Entertainment, Sports & Live Events, at Group M, highlighted that the Indian Government’s approach towards sports-broadcasting is imbalanced.  In particular, industry-stakeholders seek a balance between enhanced consumer-access, and value-generation through sports-broadcasting, which should ideally complement each other. Panellist Nitin Kukreja, CEO of IQuest Enterprises, stressed the need for a comprehensive framework that outlines objectives and details implementation of the mandatory sharing law. This would imbue the legal framework with required predictability. John Medeiros, Chief Policy Officer of the Asian Video Industry Association highlighted that consultative rulemaking processes, along with regular impact assessments of legislative frameworks, will help strike a greater balance.

Ad-hoc Decision-Making

Chintamani Rao, a media expert, pointed out that predictability of rules is a necessary precursor to greater investments in the domestic sports industry. Citing instances of unpredictability in rulemaking, he highlighted that notifying stakeholders about events of national importance is often done just weeks prior to the scheduled broadcast. Still further, there appears to be no apparent transparency around this process. Matt Kurlanzik, Director, Government Relations, Asia, 21st Century Fox, added that “ad-hoc regulation throws a wrench into the sports broadcasting machinery which functions with the expectation of revenue flow from a particular event”.

Another legacy issue in India’s sports-broadcasting ecosystem stems from government ownership of much of India’s sporting infrastructure: stadiums can be commandeered for various events, particularly by various state governments. According to Atul Pandey, Chairman, Sports Live Entertainment, this inevitably leads to the de-prioritisation of events run by non-government stakeholders, which in turn, creates a barrier to the growth of private leagues.

Featured Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash


“OK Google – It’s Time To Remove Sports Piracy Streams From Your Search Results”

We’re Americans. We love sports. We get all wrapped up in the players on the field, or the court, or the ring, and we totally forget about the thousands of people who work behind the scenes to make our most exciting and treasured sports moments a reality. There are over 450,000 people who work in the American sports entertainment industry – from your favorite player to the cameraman bringing the home run, or touchdown, or goal to your living room.

Now, pick a sport, any sport – from the NBA playoffs to NCAA women’s golf. If it’s televised, there’s almost definitely an illegal stream for it, and one of near-perfect quality. Gone are the days of choppy video or untimely lagging. The pirated sports streams of today are perfect with minimal lag time, often featuring a video feed so clean and clear that it can be difficult to distinguish them from the legitimate source.

Pirates who have mastered the art of making their stolen goods look legitimate are nothing new. And, there are multiple ways to commit this crime. One way, is with devices like the “fully-loaded Kodi box” – which serve up vast bundles of pirated film and television offerings (including sports) with an on-screen user interface that looks just about as beautiful as Roku, Apple TV, or any other name-brand offering.

But, Kodi is not the only way to watch sports illegally. With sports piracy, anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can pull up a free live stream of their chosen game within seconds – by simply entering a few search terms into Google.

“Consumer knowledge of what’s authorized and what isn’t is eroding,” Yahoo! Sports’ Henry Bushnell wrote in a recent article about illegal sports streaming. “Fewer patrons care. More are willing to take the risk.”

One telling statistic Bushnell cites, from the piracy data company MUSO, posits that “humans made 362.7 million visits to sports piracy websites” in January 2019 alone.

It’s difficult to calculate lost revenues from sports piracy, but one firm, Ovum, estimates that it’s around 16% of all digital television and video earnings – or, about $37.4 billion per year.

That’s a lot of money, and that’s not just out of the pockets of a few big-name athletes or sports leagues. It also hits the hundreds of thousands of people who are working tirelessly to make your sports viewing experience the best it can be.

What can be done? Well, to begin with, Google – with its dominant search engine and dominant YouTube video platform – could do more to clean up its act.

First, Google could de-index the search results leading to illegal sports streams.

Second, Google could also do more to suppress sports streaming piracy on YouTube. Around certain big sporting events, such as NFL Sundays, YouTube becomes rife with illegal game streams. Many get taken down within minutes, but not before attracting “thousands of viewers,” reports CNBC. Following each takedown, new streams pop up wantonly, in an endless game of “almost live whack-a-mole.” The pirated feeds “were made easier to find thanks to the search software,” CNBC reports. Entering the letters “nfl” prompts YouTube’s search box to suggest similar, pirate-friendly phrases such as “nfl live streaming.”  Click there, and your choices, of course, include numerous pirate sites. Unbelievable.

Compared with, say, rooting out the participants in a vast global network of brazen sports bootleggers, this seems like a relatively simple fix. If Google can de-index search results, as they’ve done before for other reasons, they can do the same thing with sports. Why haven’t they? It’s the Google business model again, which depends on helping people searching for anything and everything, regardless of its legality.

Sports piracy is out of bounds. Google should do more to stop it. #StandCreative

This article was first published in Creative Future.