The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hollywood hit on DVD pirate

Mumbai, March 2: For the first time, an Indian court has convicted and jailed a film pirate on a complaint from Hollywood, earning applause for the country’s increasing commitment to combating intellectual property theft.

Sameer Ahmed Qureshi was awarded a seven-month term and fined Rs 55,000 here on February 20 for pirating DVDs of Fantastic 4 and Mr & Mrs Smith (20th Century Fox), Rush Hour (New Line Cinema) and Troy (Warner Brothers).

Hollywood studios’ foreign lobbying arm, Motion Picture Association (MPA), which had lodged the case, joined Bollywood in welcoming what is only the sixth movie piracy conviction in India, with over 2,000 other cases pending.

“The Motion Picture Association is encouraged by this ruling, which demonstrates the importance Indian courts are placing on the protection of intellectual property rights,” said Mike Ellis, MPA senior vice-president and regional director, Asia-Pacific, in a written statement yesterday.

“This is a significant verdict. The rate of conviction in video piracy (in India) is abysmal — about 1 to 2 per cent,” said Anil Nagrath, Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association (IMPPA) secretary.

Video piracy, however, isn’t confined to wholesalers like Qureshi. Even those copying film DVDs at home and passing them on to acquaintances — whether or not against a small sum — are guilty of the same offence under the Indian Copyright Act, Nagrath said.

What complicates matters is that the film discs they copy could themselves be illegal. To be sold or shown in India, a film video needs the censor board’s clearance -- but most Hollywood discs available in the country don’t have it, Nagrath added. In such instances, getting a conviction could be difficult.

Usually, only the Hollywood videos produced by authorised Indian companies, who have bought the marketing rights, have the censor board certification. So do Bollywood videos, and pirating them even for individual use could bring criminal charges.

Nagrath, however, said the loss caused by individual copiers is small. What the industry is concerned about is piracy on a commercial scale, carried on by people like Qureshi.

MPA’s member studios have lost $6.1 billion (over Rs 27,000 crore) to worldwide piracy in 2005, of which about $1.2 billion (over Rs 5,300 crore) came from piracy across the Asia-Pacific region. Piracy in the US accounted for another $1.3 billion.

“The tremendous damage caused to the movie industry in India by pirates, of course, significantly impacts our member companies’ business,” Ellis said, “but it is local producers and distributors who are hit hardest, and it is workers on locally produced films who are at greatest risk of losing income and jobs. The protection of intellectual property rights fosters innovation and is vital to economic growth and job creation around the world.”

Qureshi was arrested in October 2005, which means his conviction was speedy.

“It takes years, at times decades, for conviction to take place. By then it doesn’t matter commercially for the producer of the pirated movie,” Nagrath said.

“Besides, legal loopholes make it possible for the pirates to walk free on bail within 24 hours of arrest. And then the case drags on for years.”

The IMPPA has a suggestion. “The idea is to provide a strong deterrent by booking the pirates under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, as in the case of Tamil Nadu, where offenders are booked under the state’s Goonda Act,” Nagrath said.

Currently, in Maharashtra and almost all other states, including Bengal, offenders are booked under the less stringent Indian Copyright Act.

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