Piracy is a 3-headed monster. Head One is the perpetrator of the crime, the duplicator. Head Two is the fence, or video parlour dealing in stolen goods. And Head Three is the consumer — all of us. The last category is what worries me most.
There is supreme indifference to the plight of this industry because of certain entrenched biases against it in the public mind and the media. If a couple of dacoities happen occasionally in the city outskirts, there’s a hue and cry. But when we are being robbed on a daily basis without a holiday; there is not a squeak. Why this indifference?
Because film people are a debauched lot! That’s perception no.1. “They deserve what they suffer. as they are morally bankrupt.” Well, every profession has black sheep. 25% of the Members in Parliament have a criminal record. But dubbing every MP a crook is incorrect. Easy generalisation is lazy thinking. Corruption of character exists everywhere; a CI asked me Rs.60,000 to book an internet piracy case. An Income Tax Officer foisted a false case on a much-in-demand Director and demanded 5 lakhs — plus dates for good measure; does this make the whole department suspect?
Perception no.2. “The films they make are trash, so what if they are pirated. They show police in a bad light, they show teachers in a bad light, they show women in a blue light. . .” But think of this, when a property is stolen you do not question the taste of the owner. Whether the painting stolen is a Ravi Varma or garish calendar art, the law has to take the same cognizance.
Perception no.3. “Film people have tons of money so they can afford to lose a few kilos to sundry pirates”. Though the view that the film industry means a few bigwigs is sadly mistaken, lets stick with it for a moment. They are rich. So what? Aren’t all equal in the eyes of the law? Isn’t that why the lady with the scales has a blindfold: to mete out equal punishment for equal crime, irrespective of who commits it. And to protect equally the rights of any victim, big or small?
And small they are, over 1 lakh of them, working in the industry. Daily wage earners: carpenters, painters, light boys, set boys, production boys, spot boys, sweepers, dishwashers. Piracy hits them more than it does the big guns. When losses mount due to our rightful revenue going into the crooks coffers, film production falls. And film workers lose their livelihood.
Perception no.4. “Film makers themselves are cheats, they blatantly filch from other films. So why is the pot calling the kettle black?” This is trying to equate two unequal crimes. Copying from another’s work is plagiarism, not piracy. Plagiarism is far less dangerous than Piracy, and much easier to detect. Because the perpetrator is not hidden. His name is there in the credits. It is usually a one off case between two individuals unlike piracy which is a rampant epidemic across the whole industry with hundreds of perpetrators who are everywhere yet remain unknown.
Perception no.5. “It is all the fault of the film makers for not releasing legitimate DVDs along with the theatrical release.” This argument was actually given by an internet downloader of pirated movies. He says he wants to watch a movie which is not playing at a theatre near him and since a DVD wasn’t released, he goes for the pirated one. Great! We agree consumer is king; but he can’t become a dictator and grab what is not his.
But the film chamber too needs to ponder if this delay in the availability of original DVDs is necessary. There is a huge demand which is increasing by the day. Remember that law in physics — nature abhors a vacuum. If we don’t cater to that demand, there are a 100 willing crooks with pirated stuff.
Lastly, Perception no.6. Actually it is a lack of perception on the part of the consumer. As David Ogilvy said in regard to advertising — the consumer is not an idiot, she’s your wife. In the same way, who are the people watching these millions of pirated DVDs . They are our own people, our family, friends, neighbours. And they don’t have a twinge of guilt about it. Why? Because of this lack of clear perception. These same people would die of shame at even the thought of picking someone’s pocket. Yet what they are doing by renting or buying a pirated DVD is just that. Thousands of software engineers and students in US download pirated movies. But it never strikes them that if computer software was pirated on the same scale they would soon be out of those fancy jobs.
If these mindsets are changed tackling this menace would be a less daunting task. As for the losses, forget what the film industry loses, quake at what society will lose. Intellectual property is the least palpable but most precious property of all. If we can’t protect and reward our creative people, we will soon be staring at a wasteland of stale ideas. Every change in society follows from some creator who questioned the present . And saw a better future. Don’t let piracy turn the creative community into a past tense.