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How Does Digital Piracy Affect Cinematographic Works?


The pandemic has resulted in a surge in online piracy. India showed a rise of 62% in piracy of online films between February and March 2020 alone. These spikes in fact were not just limited to India. Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Italy also faced twice the amount of Piracy. With the arrival of the second wave, these unsolicited activities skyrocketed.

As per some reports by EY India, content creators are now losing up to five times the money they would have originally made if the content was viewed through legal means. Instead of purchasing subscriptions for various streaming websites, people choose to watch content off social media websites like Helo and messaging apps like Telegram, as well as the many websites for online streaming and torrenting. But what people do not understand is that by using such illegal platforms, they are taking part in a criminal act, an act they can be penalized for.

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How Does Digital Piracy Work?

Every person has certain belongings whose ownership is rightfully and completely owned by him. No person can use his belongings without his permission as it would result in jeopardizing his rights. Piracy is jeopardizing the ownership of a creator with regards to his copyrighted and/or trademarked property. It includes the theft or wrongful use of someone’s intellectual property which leads to a loss to the rightful owner.

Thought the term ‘piracy’ was derived through pirates and their physical act of looting people’s belongings, in today’s day and age, especially when we focus on Digital Piracy, the term refers to wrongfully distributing any person’s work without having any monetary gain but causing a loss for the actual owner of the work. Digital Piracy with reference to cinematographic films means the illegal collection, duplication, reproduction, and distribution of cinematographic works without having any legal rights to do so from the owner of the works – the producer, or the production house.

With the advancement in technology, the manner of doing so has also advanced. People who commit the offense of piracy go to great lengths to make sure that they are not traced. They do so by using BitTorrent services where they can string in the whole work by compiling data through several users. It is a simple manner through which these sites have been able to facilitate Piracy. Other older methods such as recording the movie through cameras are also prevalent to this day.

What are the Indian laws governing Digital Piracy?

It may come as a surprise, but India does not have dedicated legislation that looks into the matters of piracy, let alone one specific to its digital offspring. Internationally as well, there are no conventions or treaties that look into Piracy in its modern form. However, there are certain laws that help in tackling the problem of Digital Piracy as of now.

The first legislation for the same is the Copyright Act of 1957. Since cinematographic films are protected under Copyright, any illegitimate activity that hampers the rights of the owners gets punished. The act does not have any provision that specifically looks into or defines Piracy, but Sections 13 and 14 of the Act do help in giving protection to the owners. It allows for the owner to take action against any unsolicited technological activity that may infringe the rights of the owner. The second legislation that looks into digital piracy is the Information Technology Act of 2000. That act under Section 45 states that if any person tries to extract any information in a digital manner without any legal authorization by the owner, he shall be held liable and will have to pay a fine.

There have been other campaigns and initiatives made by the state to look into these problems. This includes the National Intellectual Property Rights Policy 2016, the Cell for IPR Promotion and Management, etc. These initiatives are made to make people aware of Piracy Laws in India. Further, a fine ranging between Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 2 lakhs and more have been brought through precedents.

Finally, we have the new amendment that has been proposed to the Cinematographic Act of 1952. This amendment would help in making a proper set of laws that would deal with piracy and its repercussions. The amendment plans to bring in punishment of imprisonment which would range between three months to three years and a fine which wouldn’t be less than three lakh rupees but which may extend to 5% of the audited gross production cost or both.

Is there a need for proper legislation?

Even though the government is trying its best, it is not able to curb the high amount of consumption of pirated content. Despite several existing provisions where identified sites can be penalized or banned, the authorities have not been able to effectively stop them as they constantly change domain names and continue to leak digital content. BitTorrent service and the use of social media and messaging apps for accomplishing piracy is another nightmare.

As mentioned earlier, even though there have been laws that help in the punishment of Piracy, India does not have concrete laws for Piracy – both physical or digital. These existing laws may have helped in the punishment of Piracy, there is a severe requirement for comprehensive legislation for piracy. The attempt for the same with the amendment of the Cinematograph law has been good but is yet to be approved. There are still many people who are against the passing of the Bill which stages issues for regulated piracy legislations.

It is high time that the general public realizes that for saving small amounts of subscription money, they are risking farming their data out to several unsolicited websites. This may in future, cause financial as well as security issues for them that would lead to them losing more money than they save. In addition, content creators depend on revenue for future productions, and piracy serves as a huge deterrent to small-time and independent creators in particular.

Author: Maitreyi Shishir, Legal Intern at PA Legal.

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