What can companies do to protect themselves against online piracy?

That even the biggest names in the industry can’t escape piracy was proved
again, some weeks ago, when the big budget Rajinikanth starrer Kabali saw its
hero’s opening scene leak into the online world a couple of days before its
release. The fact that this and other spoilers, including a partial copy which had
been filmed by a mobile phone, did not stop the film from having a box office
collection Rs 350 crores in the first two weeks, was in part thanks to fact that
15,000 pirated links were brought down within a period of one week.

In the case of Kabali and many other films, these pirated copies on the internet,
stem usually from fans who want to put up a link for the heck of it rather than
with any monetizing intent. Yet the other part of the equation also holds true as
well and it brings to surface the real problem of online piracy that production
houses face, which is believed to be causing a loss of Rs 18,000 crore to the
Indian film industry and around Rs 1000 crore to the Tamil Nadu film industry.

Piracy has been an issue since the time of double tape decks but its infiltration
and its ability to cause stress to production houses has grown exponentially in
the digital age. Before digital media, majority of people did not have access to
pirated goods and pirated products were generally of an inferior quality. Piracy
online began with Napster, which was the pioneer in peer-to-peer file sharing.
While Napster finally did shut down, file-sharing technologies such as Torrent
continue to prevail in the digital world and make it possible and practically
unstoppable for people to distribute and view pirated files online. The
technology acts as a throughput, making it hard to catch people engaging in
piracy, until of course the pirated file is put on a public website.

In our experience we have found two main kinds of entities who upload pirated
files online. First and the simpler to catch and deal with of the two, are the ones
who out of sheer bravado or wanting to prove their fanatical enthusiasm about
their idol, post a pirated clip or song from the movie, to showoff if they have
gotten to see a Benefit Show or a Premiere or first show, as the case may be. This
could also be an inside job done by someone from the production unit. They
usually do not have a mercantile interest unlike the second category. This
category wants to monetize the pirated copy on video-sharing websites such as
YouTube or Dailymotion and is more problematic because while a claimed link
can be shut down in a matter of minutes on a platform such as YouTube;
Dailymotion and other websites can take hours to take down a link, making it
impossible for an urgent treatment of piracy the situation which is required.

Nipping piracy in the bud

Whatever might be the intent, at the end of the day, leakages affect the bottom
line of the investment fraternity, which has put in the money into the creative
process. Our tips therefore to companies affected by piracy would be:

Shut them down or partner: The vast majority of pirated links are put up by
individuals or casual set-ups and a defensive strategy involves bringing them
down either through algorithms or by physically scouring the web. This is
exactly what we did for the producers of Kabali where in addition to amplifying
and promoting the film in the digital world, our claims team took on the task of
bringing down pirated links. Separately and in other cases, our team has also
recommended partnering, if it is evident that the source is a recognized company
and is generating a large number of views and revenue.

Communicate with audiences: Having had experience of about two decades in
dealing with piracy, I reiterate our advice to production houses, that piracy
almost certainly is not preventable and at best can be controlled with a strong
communication and execution strategy. This is a more proactive approach and
involves understanding the psyche of people, existing piracy patterns, and
preempting the challenges. Inform audiences of the distribution plans of the film,
which will discourage them from watching pirated content. This means planning
for the film to be made available online, on subscription-fee platforms, which
offer audiences the convenience of watching films anywhere on any device
within weeks of its release. Usually films are released on platforms such as
Hotstar, Netflix Inc., Mango Mobile TV and many such platforms to join this
monetizing model, within weeks of releasing in theatres and are available for
viewership at a fraction of the cost. This feeds into the need of most audiences
who are price and time sensitive. The next level of dissemination is making the
film available on Direct-to-Home service providers and digital cable TV
providers, and again informing audiences of the same.

There is a never-ending charade of digital piracy cases. The faster companies
recognize this, the more they can do to be on top of it.

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