IRC16 - Proposed Session - #DigitalDesires

Posted by Sumandro Chattapadhyay at Nov 24, 2015 08:20 AM |
This is a session proposed for the Internet Researchers' Conference (IRC) 2016 by Silpa Mukherjee, Ankita Deb, and Rahul Kumar.



We propose to design the panel as a workshop with three paper presentations followed by an open discussion with the house exploring the key question of media objects‟ (in the form of film/film music/memes/gifs/trolls) changing relations with law; copyright and piracy having attained newer connotations in the age of media convergence. While we deal with the materiality of cinema in the new media moment, the session will open out debates on the mutability of media objects in a networked digital terrain ushered in by fast growing and cost-effective internet culture in urban India.

In terms of methodology the panel deploys media archaeology to trace the mutations that film culture has undergone in the digital age. The coexistence of the obsolete media copyright with its meme and its digitally re-mastered copy on torrent informs the research that the three papers involve. A certain engagement with the logic of informed/fan-cinephilic digital labour that unwittingly maintains and updates the algorithmic database of Web 2.0 services will run through the presentations. Along with archival research and interviews with professionals involved with online media companies and “users” who are now the "pirate/prosumer-cinephiles" of media objects, we will carry out extensive digital ethnography to map the chimera of digital territory that user traffic based internet culture in India helped produce.

The digital is a space of intervention: a space for the users to intervene and play with the material online. It is a constant form of participation underscoring a potential for democratic authorship. The definitive notion of authorship voices the overarching body of the state through its legal status. Thus copyright as a legal entity produces a discourse of power through this form of authorship. The contemporary medium or rather the multi-media constellation driven by internet culture in India produces an alternative discourse on authorship, complicating the notion of copyright and piracy at the same time. This charged terrain of (il)legality is also due to the nature of piracy in the digital domain, which does not exist in isolation but have now created bodies or spheres where it has been appropriated as a sub-cultural practice. The figure of the “pirate”/ the “troll”/ the “fan” and the “cinephile” now merges with the technologically enabled body of the user of new media who negotiates with the medium in multiple ways (and morphs it) and thereby touches all kinds of spaces within and outside the webspace. It has changed the physical scope of cinephilia as addressed in the paper "A Laptop and a Pen-drive: Cinephiles of Mukherjee Nagar," where the culture of networked sharing evolves from and further complicates physical stations. It has permeated into the body of film music in the paper "Licensed, Remixed and Pirated: Item numbers and the web", which interrogates the layers of user-based morphs that the text of a dance number in Bollywood undergoes in the culture of web based remixing and hacking. It changes the way protected materials like films circulate in the space designated as YouTube, marked by its ability to reproduce copyright materials without violating the law as the third paper titled "Online Streaming in the Era of Digital Cinephilia" points out; the logic of the obsolete license of old Hindi films which gains a new viral life on YouTube with its official upload vying with the multiple hacker-user uploads.

Thus the panel intends to explore the dizzying overlaps that produce this internet induced distinct zone of ambiguity that neither the law nor the state or the author can claim ownership over. The very embodiment of the material in the digital is in transition i.e. in a state of being morphedby the blurring of the identities of the multiple bodies at work at each moment. Through the three papers we intend to chart this transitional aesthetic sometimes contained and sometimes flowing out of the body of the media text onto the physical, technological and extra textual objects as well. The panel seeks to position this new world of media objects that overlap and form an uncontainable entity, seeking newer forms of negotiations with the older existing order. We seek to explore then what happens to the very essence of author(ity)ship when digital enters its domain.



A Laptop and a Pen-drive: Cinephiles of Mukherjee Nagar

With the changes technology has brought to contemporary life, cinephiles – for whom movies are a way of life, films and how they are experienced have undergone major changes. The classic cinephile, as the term was adopted in the 1960s has undergone a major change in the era of internet piracy. I will look at the way pirated films via torrent downloads are consumed by students in certain pockets in New Delhi especially around Mukherjee Nagar area. These students who come from the upwardly mobile Indian middle class families are engaged inpreparations of competitive exams to land a lucrative government job. Circumstances dictate that these students own a laptop to watch films but not a high speed internet connection. To fuel their cinephilic urge, they are dependent upon soft copy vendors of pirated films. These vendors are like a video library, the repository here being a laptop and a storage drive. These professional film pirates depend upon the p2p file sharing commonly referred as "torrent." DVD and Blu Rays released by official sources are ripped at a bigger size by certain uploaderswhich are downloaded by another one who rips it to an even smaller size, fit enough to be downloaded by pirates with a slower broadband till it reaches places like Mukherjee Nagar. Using this particular case study, where the world of online film piracy merges with a third world piracy domain, I plan to interrogate the logistics of a new kind of cinephilia and try and frame this particular form of informal circuit of media production and consumption into a coherent perspective.

Relevant websites:,,

Relevant software: Handbrake, uTorrent / Deluge / Vuze.

Relevant reading: Treske, Andreas. The Inner Life of Video Spheres: Theory for the YouTube Generation. Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, 2013

Licensed, Remixed and Pirated: Item Numbers and the Web

The coming of new digital technologies has rendered the relationship of media objects’ with law extremely malleable and volatile. It urges us to rethink certain categories we have been working with, viz. piracy and copyright. The specific focus of the paper will be on item numbers’ relationship with changing technology and the law. The proprioceptive body being the central node of enquiry here: the law that affects the body that moves on screen and the body that is moved by the screen is made flexible in the digital age with Web 2.0’s unique design that spawns hackability and remixability. Through the registers of music licensing to YouTube, circulation of content offline as MP3 downloads in cheap mass storage devices, user generated morphed content related to item numbers (in the form of memes, GIFs, trolls, posters, tumblr blogs and listicles) spawned by amateur digital culture and remixing videos of film content the paper traces the gray zone between web based music piracy and its copyright rules. It will interrogate the moment when the entertainment industry has recognized the clear shift of its spectatorship from the older media to the more digital platforms and appropriates the contingency brought in by the algorithmic anxiety of Web 2.0 and its unique relationship with law and hence censorship regulations to innovate newer means of mass circulation and bypassing censorship.

Relevant content:

Relevant user-traffic-oriented platforms:,,,

Relevant curated online media platforms: ScoopWhoop, Buzzfeed India,

Online Streaming in the era of Digital Cinephilia

Digital piracy has allowed for certain democratization of film distribution and consumption through a parallel economy of piracy. The lack of control over these channels of distribution produces a blatant threat to the copyright and intellectual property rights that are quintessential to the mainstream culture of commercial film distribution. This paper will focus on the intersection of these two dichotomous cultures through the experience of watching old films via online streaming. The resurfacing of old films hosted by big corporations like Shemaroo, Venus and Ultra who began as film rights and video rights owners at one point host their old video content in a user generated space called youtube. The video content is a very specific form here. It is an obsolete entity, defined by its ambiguity with copyright that is able to make a legal transgression in order to circulate.

The circulation of the feature films in a web space that is primarily known for its clip culture also provides an interesting paradigm for the copyright material. The big corporate copyright floats in a culture of pirated experiences where the legal domain becomes a dizzying site of contradictions. Through this paper I will draw parallels between the history of these companies and their work in the field of film circulation and to the creation of a new form of cinephilia and its complicated relationship to the law. I will use a variety of archival sources, legal documents and discourses on online streaming to contextualize my argument.

Relevant websites:,,






Sumandro Chattapadhyay

As a Director at CIS, I co-lead the researchers@work programme, and engage with academic and policy research on data governance and digital economy. I can be reached at sumandro[at]cis-india[dot]org.