At the Creative Tree Project conference organized by law firm Anand and Anand, Yatra Books and literary consultancy Sihayi last week, the session on the Internet focused almost entirely on issues of piracy of content. Some notes from the conference:

Uday Singh, MD (India), Motion Pictures Association:

On the Impact of the Internet on the opening weekend: The Internet is a blessing and a curse: we open really big, and with 3000 screens (due to digital distribution), but the opening weekend becomes the most decisive part. It’s a parachute for a movie, if it doesn’t open, you’re dead. You try and get your money out as soon as possible. Part of it is saturation release, so you need a strong marketing campaign. (If three films open that weekend) People go to the Internet to see the film if they can’t see all three at all theaters. It’s an attitudinal issue, and a lot of it is because of lack of awareness.
On Piracy Syndicates: Piracy is not the work of one person, but 300 people. Our current law has copy protection measures but no access control measures, and hackers tools have not been banned. Our primary drive is to identify where the liabiltiy lies. We’re not concerned about the end users, but by people releasing our movies before we can. Release groups are habitual offenders, and give guaranteed deliveries across the world. HD images go to Russia, and exporting it to other parts of the world. There are sites that are set up with the intent to infringe. The problem is that they are cross-border.
On Website Blocking: The answer is site blocking (of websites). There is a body called CERT, but they are looking mostly at terror issues. We don’t have specific laws addressing piracy issues. When we monitor it – we got 300 sites in the first couple of hours, then 600. You remove one site, and another comes up. Like songs.pk has become songspk.pk. These guys are ahead of you in the game. These are sites that are leaking money to crime syndicates. We’ve done several initiatives – the blessing is that the Andhra Pradesh film chamber, and the government supports it. The way they’re fighting piracy there, is as good as anywhere in the world.
On watermarking films in theatres: The sources are cam recording in the cinema halls. They are meeting the guaranteed dates and timelines. You cant bulletproof all prints. You watermark it (the print), so you leave a digital footprint behind, for tracing the hour and location. It also goes to the net, where it becomes difficult to manage.
On John Doe Orders: The first John Doe order was wide in its implementation, and they threw the baby out of the bathwater, which led to a furore. First lets go after the rogue sites primarily designed to steal.
On user solutions: Provide access control and copy control, and models like Ultra Violet, because it forces us to think of new mechanisms.

Jatin Ahluwalia, CEO, Seven3Rockers Technologies:

On Cricket Piracy and CERT: An IPL Cricket Match is for 2.5 hrs to 3hrs, and there’s nothing that we can do before or after. We can’t figure out the server location. I know that the IPL match that I’m broadcasting today is being pirated out of Pakistan. They give multiple server options, so if one goes down you can pick the other/ We’re initiating something against them. Even as technologists, we’re about wondering how we can stop it. We approached Dr Rai, who heads CERT, and he said that you have a commercial interest aligned with national interest, but he can’t step into the territory of Pakistan and Bangladesh. There is very little we could do for piracy from there.
On ISP Liability: Internet protocol impacts all bearers. We have a few low hanging fruits to catch for this. There are 800 million handsets. In a years time, there could be 400 million smart phones. The commercial benefit could be arrived at on the go. That’s not emanating from the free internet space, but it’s stemming from a mobile carrier. If we involve them as well, a greater part of revenue realization could be protected.
– If I reported to YouTube on Friday, it is acted on by Monday.

Amrita Choudhury, Country Head (India) & Publishing Director at Harlequin:

Publishing is where music was: When Dan Browns new book was released, a few hundred thousand ebooks were downloaded (pirated).
Format issues: There are multiple formats, you don’t know which one will survive, and you don’t know which format will survive. There are challenges around the technology.
Geographical licensing & Pricing of ebooks: Our books are priced at different prices in different geographies. If you look at ebooks, and if they are priced at differential levels in different geographies, you really don’t know where the user is coming from, and it looks like you’re trying to buy it at an Indian rate, and the consumer could be sitting in Nigeria or the US. As a publisher you can have one pricing across countries, but that has its own challenges.
Shelf life of books: A book also has a shelf life. If you’ve protected the book too much, and haven’t given it enough digital presence in multiple formats in 2-3 months, you’ll lose the opportunity.
On ISP Liability: Roughly 1% of all piracy or data theft is reported. It is largely stemming from the fact that the police can’t recognize it, and the FIR takes a long time. You really don’t want people to know that your firewall is so weak. I would picture ISPs as a partner in trying to solve the puzzle. There might be different mechanisms for making them accountable, but they’re the gateway to determine the actual perpetrator.

Anil Nayar, Assiduous Consulting: 

Movie piracy is different from signal theft. Hard disk piracy is dead, dvd is dying.
Film Pirates have timelines too: You have a camcorder, you have to make it or break it in a day. The pirate is also fighting against time. People are knocking on his door on Thursday  and it has to hit on Saturday.
Piracy is more profitable than drugs: India is the hub, and it goes to Russia or eastern European countries. What we need to understand is that it is all controlled by Mafia, because it’s more profitable to be in movie piracy than smuggle drugs.
Is The National Mandate: CERT saying it doesn’t impact us is not true. After 26/11, the mandate from the Motion Pictures Association was to remove six factories that were making revenues through the movie industry. They shifted to Bangladesh and South Africa.
For the investigator, the Internet is very very difficult: investigations get diluted. The crime is being done from servers to routers to ISPs.
ISP Liability – the easiest target: How do you get access to data, and there are issues there because there are privacy laws. Internet investigations have to go hand in hand with ground level investigations. How to gather the evidence that would be acceptable in courts? ISPs should be held accountable for the content flowing through them. It’s the easiest target to hit for protecting the rights of content owners. The investigation has to go on, but the ISP has to have a responsibility thereafter. At this time, the investigation has be done by an SP level officer, and we have to have a mechanism for the law enforcement agencies to move faster.

Our Take: While it’s one thing to try and prevent piracy, there was little about what was actually being done to meet consumer demand. First there’s the issue of supply to meet this demand, and then there are issues of pricing and portability. I raised the point that I’d bought three ebooks in the last four weeks, and have struggled to port them across my PC and devices because of an extremely tedious DRM, because of which I’m going think ten times before buying another ebook. DRM needs to die. On ISP liability, as is clear from the comments above, the stakeholders are taking the easy way out, and trying to hold ISPs and mobile operators for the actions of content pirates and consumers. This is a non sequitur. You can’t hold a road liable for a thief getting away in a car. Reminds me of this joke on twitter these days around banning: