Piracy Studies in India

Posted by Prasad Krishna at Jan 22, 2010 12:35 PM |
The word ‘piracy’ assumes negative connotations. In the imagination of an ordinary middle class urban Indian it is linked directly to the informal economy, crime and even terrorism. But the ‘pirated good’, that is, the ‘optical disc’ is not seen with a similar perception. The ‘CD’ is the access key to the cultural wealth of music, cinema and software contained inside. This paradox is created in the sphere of information and knowledge that is created by anti-piracy agencies using extensive reports and statistics that are published every year. These statistics often have a tendency to create a feeling of ‘shock and awe’ for the readers that see these numbers splashed across headlines of news and media reports. Till 2004, the creation of numbers conjuring losses up to millions was mostly the domain of the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), which is now supplemented by reports commissioned to consultancy groups like McKinsey, PWC, and Ernst & Young. This article by Siddharth Chadha traces a few reports that have come to become popular benchmarks of piracy in the past few years.

Special ‘301’ Reports

The ‘Special 301 Reports’ are published annually by the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to examine ‘in detail the adequacy and effectiveness of intellectual property rights protection’ in countries around the globe. Sections 301-310 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended by the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, empower the USTR ‘to identify foreign countries that deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights or fair and equitable market access for U.S. persons that rely on intellectual property protection.’    

India has faced considerable pressure to amend and enforce its copyright laws, more to the needs of the United States rather than reflecting the needs of its population, businesses and innovation. The 301 reports over the last decade have been largely concerned with the general problems of counterfeit and piracy in India, unlike China where specific laws adopted and enforced by the state have been critiqued. Over the course of the decade, according to the reports, the United States has been concerned with a large number of subjects including the backlog and inadequacy of India’s legal system, lack of enforcement of IP protections for media oriented products like ‘motion pictures, music, software, books and video games’, need for stronger protection of copyrights, trademarks and patents, optical media and procedural inadequacies. In 2004 the USTR reported, ‘copyright piracy is rampant, and the U.S. copyright industry estimates that lost sales resulting from piracy in India of U.S. motion pictures, sound recordings, musical compositions, computer programmes, and books totaled approximately $500 million in 2004.’

The United States articulates the reasons for concern in India – the challenge posed by Indian pirated and counterfeit goods entering American markets. It expresses its concern for lack of piracy enforcement as ‘‘growing concern for U.S. copyright industries, especially given the pirated imports are entering the market from Southeast Asia.

Over the past few years, it has also included suggestions of taking criminal action against those engaging in copyright infringement. India’s supposed ‘weak’ criminal system is mentioned in the 2008 reports, focused specifically on the need for a greater police presence enforcing IPR infringements through criminal means and ‘stronger’ border control.

The Effects of Counterfeiting and Piracy on India’s Entertainment Industry

Published in March 2009 by United States-India Business Council (USIBC) and prepared by Ernst and Young India, claims that as much as Rs.16, 000 crores are lost due to piracy. Alongside, as many as 80,000 jobs are lost directly as a result of theft and piracy, afflicting India’s entertainment industry. This report was commissioned as a part of the USIBC–FICCI Bollywood–Hollywood initiative and covered film, music, television and video games. It was funded by the Global Intellectual Property Center of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The spectacular press launch meeting was organized in Mumbai and also attended by Yash Chopra, chairman of FICCI Frames and Ramesh Sippy, the famed director who commented on the occasion, “I know first hand the importance of fighting piracy to support the growth of Bollywood. I commend the USIBC–FICCI initiative for enlisting all elements of the entertainment industry against piracy.” The President of USIBC, Ron Summers used the opportunity to suggest stronger legal means to tackle piracy. He said, “We strongly support passage by India of optical disc legislation that will thwart piracy in this important industry. We are pleased to stand shoulder to shoulder with counterparts in India to help protect jobs and revenues that are now being needlessly lost to piracy.”

Sixth Annual BSA and IDC Global Software Piracy Study

Business Software Alliance, in partnership with a market analysis firm IDC, published their annual study on global trends in software piracy in May 2009. Sixth in its annual series, the report critically blames the Asia Pacific region, especially India and China, for the growing levels in piracy, despite countries bringing down their piracy rates. The report says, ‘In 2008, the rate of PC software piracy dropped in slightly more than half (57) of the 110 countries studied, remained the same in nearly one third (36), and rose in just 16. However, the worldwide PC software piracy rate rose for the second year in a row, from 38 per cent to 41 per cent, mainly because PC shipments grew fastest in high-piracy countries such as China and India, overwhelming progress in these and other countries.’

In addition, it also makes an India specific point by highlighting India’s piracy trends,

‘India’s rate has dropped six points in five years, despite its sprawling PC market, of which consumers and small businesses account for 65 per cent. While consumer PC shipments grew more than 10 per cent last year, shipments to other categories dropped 7 per cent.’

Motion Pictures Distributors Association’s Internet Piracy Studies

Earlier this month, the MPA Office in India named Motion Pictures Distributors Association, along with a DtecNet a global anti-piracy company, released a study on the Internet piracy trends in India. This report places India as the fourth largest global hub of online film piracy, behind United States, Britain and Canada, with Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai accounting for the major share of illegal downloads. It estimates that Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey, was downloaded 350, 000 times on Bit Torrent with about 2/3rds of downloaders being from India. MPDA also links this study to another consultancy, Envisional’s similar suggestions, while MPDA’s managing director, Rajiv Dalal pushed for strong laws to support copyright, strong enforcement and stiff sentences for people who violate laws, on the basis of these reports.

Despite the availability of a large number of critiques available in the academic world, the media – both broadcast and print, reports shock inducing statistics verbatim, treating them as expert evidence without engaging in any analysis of the published material. Most of the piracy studies are quantitative in nature and do not provide any social class or demographic break up either of those who engage in piracy or those who buy pirated goods. It has also been pointed out by scholars like Shujen Wang that it is unreasonable to assume that every pirated copy could be counted as a lost sale, and thus a loss. In absence of research on the cultural aspects of piracy and the subsequent circulation, these reports have been successful in creating a fear psychosis in the civil society.