Take One

Take The Cue

Some battles are just too important to not fight for with one’s life, even though the odds against emerging victorious (or even alive) may seem insurmountable.

The fight against online piracy is one such seemingly unwinnable war front for the entertainment industry, with the deadly cocktail of PCs, smart phones and the Internet making the illegal distribution and consumption of films and music literally child’s play.

Given that bleak ground reality, the recent court orders secured by the Indian Music Industry (IMI) signify a rare and critical victory for content owners in their do-or-diewar with digital pirates.

In essence, the two ex-parte orders issued by the Calcutta High Court direct a staggering 387 Internet Service Providers (ISPs)  all across the country to block 104 websites, which have been identified by IMI as hosting content of IMI’s constituent members without any permissions/licences.

The orders are significant in at least two respects. One, the fact that instead of going after the websites themselves, it seeks to put the onus on the gateways used to access them i.e. the ISPs. This is critical because with pirate websites’ ownership and servers strewn across multiple geographies and easily replicable in some other location at the first whiff of prosecution, trying to crack down on them posses huge logistical and jurisdictional issues. Conversely, it is easier to enforce the law with ISPs who are registered and identifiable corporate citizens in India.

Second, instead of a general ‘John Doe’ order, the likes of which we have seen in a few film-related cases recently, the Calcutta High Court orders specifically mentionby name and URL, the 104 websites that are sought to be blocked; there by making verifiable fulfillment of the orders by the ISPs much easier to enforce and monitor.

So, is this the magic bullet that will end digital piracy of music in India? Of course it isn’t. A mere Google search for free music downloads will tell you that the number of pirate sites out there is far in excess of 104. And it doesn’t take too long for www.piratesite.com to morph into www.piratesite.info.

However, there is no such thing as the perfect solution when it comes to online piracy, and this victory secured by IMI, though not an end in itself, is a hugely significant accomplishment that the industry will now need to tirelessly and constantly build upon. The legal precedent set by the two orders will hold content owners in good stead, particularly when the full impact of the Internet is unleashed with the rapid growth in computer and smart phone penetration and the imminent 4G broadband rollout.

The film industry ought to take advantage of the important headway made by the music industry and seek similar action against the many sites that are known to offer downloads and streaming of films.

The billion-dollar question, quite literally, is who will bell the cat? A critical determinant behind IMI’s legal success was the fact that the body represents the vast majority of music content owners and therefore can take decisive action on behalf of the industry. Our film fraternity, alas, is a hugely fractured and factionalised lot, and very often, the most intense battles are ranged against each other rather than against the many external factors threatening the industry.

When it comes to online piracy, we would do well to remember the remixed adage:United we ban, divided we fall… into millions of illegal downloads libraries.

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