Celluloid Crossroads: Combating Digital Piracy and Strengthening Copyright Enforcement in the Indian Film Industry

By Anina Varghese

In the era of rapid technological advancement, the legal system struggles to keep pace with the challenges posed by digital communication, particularly in protecting copyrighted materials like movies. The Indian film industry, one of the world’s largest, faces significant threats from digital piracy. India’s film industry is a powerhouse, producing more movies annually than the United States and China combined. In 2013, India released 1,724 films, compared to 738 in the USA and 638 in China[1]. This industry employs over 6 million people and includes over 400 production houses. However, digital piracy casts a shadow over this thriving sector.

Copyright infringement involves the unauthorized use of copyrighted work, either in whole or in substantial part. It violates the owner’s rights to reproduce, distribute, modify, translate, and publicly display their work. Piracy not only causes financial damage but also stifles creativity by denying creators their due compensation. A 2011 study by the International Federation of Phonographic Industries estimated losses to the film industry at $20 billion due to piracy.[2]

The Indian Copyright Act of 1957 defines ‘cinematograph film’ as a visual recording, including accompanying sound recordings. Despite legal protections, movies remain prime targets for copyright infringement. While DVD piracy was once common, internet file-sharing and streaming have become the predominant forms of piracy, fuelled by India’s growing internet user base, which reached 692 million (48.7% of the population) in January 2023. Copyright encompasses both moral and economic rights. Economic rights include broadcasting and communication to the public. The Indian Copyright Act distinguishes between primary and secondary infringement. Primary infringement occurs when someone performs an act reserved for the copyright owner, while secondary infringement includes unauthorized sale, rental, distribution, or public exhibition of copyrighted works. Digital piracy in cinematographic films involves unauthorized uploading, downloading, or streaming of movie content. The Copyright (Amendment) Act of 2012 introduced Digital Rights Management provisions to combat digital piracy. It protects Technological Protection Measures (TPM) used by copyright holders and Information Rights Management (IRM) systems. Violations can result in up to two years imprisonment and fines. These amendments aimed to align India’s copyright laws with international standards, particularly the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performers and Phonograms Treaty. However, the internet complicates traditional distinctions between public and private domain reproduction. The process of data transmission on the internet, known as “packet switching,” involves multiple reproductions, making it challenging to define specific reproduction rights.

The Information Technology Act of 2000 doesn’t explicitly address online piracy as a form of infringement. While the Information Technology Rules of 2021 provide guidelines for intermediaries regarding online content, they lack specific provisions for limiting online copyright piracy. In response to these challenges, the Indian Parliament passed the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2023, on July 27, 2023. This amendment expands the scope of punishable offenses beyond cam-cording to include internet piracy. A recent Delhi High Court ruling against the illegal copying of the film “Bhramastra” imposed a fine of 20 Lakhs, citing the amended Act and emphasizing the significant losses caused by film piracy.[3]

Addressing digital piracy requires a multi-faceted approach involving content creators, consumers, governments, and tech companies. Potential solutions include: Strengthening existing copyright and technology laws to target illegal downloading and streaming at the source, implementing stricter penalties, including fines and imprisonment for large-scale piracy operations, developing more sophisticated technological protection measures to prevent unauthorized access and copying, and supporting research and development of new anti-piracy technologies and methodologies.

The rapid evolution of technology continues to outpace legal frameworks, making the fight against digital piracy an ongoing challenge. As the Indian film industry continues to grow and contribute significantly to the country’s economy and cultural landscape, protecting its intellectual property becomes increasingly crucial.

The recent legislative changes and court rulings demonstrate India’s commitment to addressing this issue. However, success will depend on effective implementation, continuous adaptation to new technologies, and cooperation among all stakeholders in the digital ecosystem. As we move forward, it’s essential to strike a balance between protecting copyright holders’ rights and ensuring reasonable access to content for consumers. This balance is key to fostering a thriving creative industry while embracing the opportunities presented by digital technologies. The global nature of the internet means that tackling digital piracy requires not just national efforts but international collaboration. As India continues to be a major player in the global film industry, its efforts to combat digital piracy could serve as a model for other countries facing similar challenges.

[1] Screen Digest Ltd., ‘World film production report: stable global film production hides decline in key territories.’ (2011) Screen Digest <https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA278881859&sid=sitemap&v=2.1&it=r&p=EAIM&sw=w&userGroupName=anon%7E5f63f1a3&aty=open-web-entry> accessed 25 June 2023

[2] Siwek, S. ‘The true cost of movie picture piracy to the U.S. economy.’ (2013) <http://www.ipi.org/docLib/20120117_CostOfPiracy.pdf > accessed 25 June 2024

[3] Niharika Lal, ‘Delhi HC cracks down on Brahmastra piracy, imposes Rs 20 lakh fine on streaming websites’, Sept 1, (2023), Times of India
<http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/103277351.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst>,  accessed 26 June 2024