Indian film industry wants more awareness over film piracy

Ashish is a senior executive in the financial sector in the home of Bollywood, Mumbai.

He earns a good wage, lives in an upmarket neighbourhood and sees himself as a decent, law-abiding citizen.

But like many Indians, the 49-year-old sees nothing wrong with buying the latest Hindi-language and Hollywood films for just a fraction of their market value - or nothing at all.

"A guy used to come to my house and sell DVDs which each had about four or five films on them. I used to get them for just 150 to 200 rupees (three to four dollars)," Ashish, who asked for his real name not to be used, told AFP.

"Then I found out from friends that they were getting films for a third of the price, so I stopped. Now I just download them from the Internet. Why should I pay for them if they're available free of charge?"

The scale of the illicit trade in pirated films is a major cause for concern among leading figures in India's entertainment industry, who say black market copies are hitting revenues as the sector looks to recover from a slump.

They want to change the attitudes of Ashish and people like him, who flock to roadside stalls or markets across India to buy the latest releases at a knock-down price.

"Piracy is a reflection of society," Harish Dayani, the head of Moser Baer India Ltd's entertainment arm, told a conference on piracy and counterfeiting this week in Mumbai.

"It's seen as too small, a 'victimless crime'," he added, likening it to public attitudes to running a red traffic light in the middle of the night.

Dayani rejected the argument that low wages were fuelling the trade.

"India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Far East all behave in a similar manner, which is: we want it now and we don't want to pay," he said.

Some 600 million illegal DVDs are sold in India every year compared with just two million authentic ones from 2,000 legitimate dealers, Dayani said, without citing sources.

"Each DVD contains five films. We are talking about 30 million films which are entering Indian households. This has an impact on film revenue, DVD sales, the distributors and the whole retail network of the business," he added.

A 2008 US-India Business Council report said India's entertainment industry lost out on as much as four billion dollars of revenue and some 800,000 extra jobs to piracy and counterfeiting.

Hiren Gada, director of the DVD rental chain Shemaroo Entertainment, blamed piracy for below-par revenues in the home rental market, which accounts for only about five percent of India's 89.3-billion-rupee entertainment industry.

Sales are hit by the street vendors, illegal Internet download sites or some local cable television operators who beam copies of new cinema releases to tens of thousands of households, he said.

Experts say better enforcement of existing Indian copyright law is needed to prevent piracy, which is often linked to organised crime and extremist groups.

Studios and distributors have already taken matters into their own hands by setting up the Alliance Against Copyright Theft (AACT), a joint venture between Indian film companies and the US Motion Picture Association.

It has conducted more than 100 raids in the last six months in Mumbai and western Gujarat state.

Over 100 arrests have been made and up to 400,000 fake DVDs seized, said Prakash Nathan, vice-president operations at UTV Motion Pictures, which is part of the initiative.

AACT has also set up a confidential hotline for information about illegal DVD sales.

But Rajiv Dalal, head of the Motion Picture Dist. Association, the Indian subsidiary of the MPA, said greater public awareness was at the heart of the issue.

"Making sure that people know where the money that they're spending is going makes a lot of sense," he told the conference of intellectual property experts on Thursday.

"If you don't have education programmes and if awareness is not there, it's not very easy to achieve your goal. If children aren't sensitised that piracy is not a victimless crime, it's going to be very difficult to curb piracy."

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