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Pirates still subterranean

Despite the ban on multiple Torrent websites issued by the Delhi High Court and the government cracking down on pirated content in the country, India continues to be a hotspot for online movie piracy

Before Netflix and Amazon Prime streamed into the market, movie buffs were nonchalantly partaking in online piracy — renting out or buying copyright films and music burned onto CDs enclosed in thin plastic sleeves.

There was a significant spike in the number of Torrent downloads. Everybody was buying CDs to lower the cost of a movie experience even further and students were carrying CD markers in schoolbags.

Currently, India is ranked at the fourth position in online movie piracy. With televisions equipped to connect to laptops and USB drives, DVD players are hardly a necessity any more. Even those who used to sell films on cheap CDs are now exchanging movies via pen drives and online sharing applications.

Tiasha Dey, 24, readily agrees that she still watches pirated content. “Not only do I watch it, I seek it out!” According to Dey, the demand for films is never ever going to die in Delhi. “The only difference is that it’s illegal,” she stresses, “and when has that stopped people in Delhi from doing what they want? And it’s not just Delhi, it’s all of India.”

She further explains that the online streaming platforms are subscription-based; not only does one have to pay for them,  they also take a while to release films on their platforms. If the same content is available without having to even pay for it, film fans are bound to make the most of that opportunity.

However, it does seem that along with the whispers of the ban on Torrent, the demand for cheap CDs also saw a return. There is a flagrant business in Kotla Mubarakpur where sales boom before every major release, with claims of having the latest releases even before the slated Friday. The rows of shops stock CDs worth thousands.

A shopkeeper who prefers not to be named for obvious reasons says, “For a short while, people had stopped buying them, when the movies started coming out on the Internet. I had many CDs lying around then. So when I realised there was a demand again, I had those wiped clean and burned other films on them.”

He goes on to explain that previously, most of his sales were coming from hall prints, which would be in demand 2-3 days post the release. And once a good copy of the film released online, people would rent or buy them to watch at home on their DVD players. Now, however, it has shifted to an even riskier game, which is that they have to acquire the film before it even releases, and make sales out of that because once it releases online, it’s already everywhere.

Some of the vendors claim that the pirated movies come from Dubai, while others will say vaguely, “Woh humara ek banda hai jo laata hai kahin se (A man who works for us, gets it from some place we don’t know of).”

The prices for these pirated CDs range from Rs 30 to Rs 100, and are subject to bargaining, depending on how they are faring at the box office. Rates also differ based on the language, age, and stars in the film. There aren’t a lot of takers for music CDs because “the music starts becoming available before the movie releases anyway.”

The police are unable to conduct raids since no complaints are filed. It seems that while piracy is a menace to some, it is a boon for many more.

As recent as April this year, the Delhi High Court banned 30 Torrents website. They are prohibited to stream, reproduce or distribute copyrighted content. The action was taken in response to pleas by UTV Communications and Twentieth Century Fox. The Delhi High Court also directed internet service providers, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to issue a notification to telecom service providers to block access to such sites.

However, a loophole has already been discovered. As ominous as it sounds, the Internet is a large vortex of information which can be manipulated with the right kind of knowhow. And so, the Torrent ban, while having admittedly slowed down the influx of pirated content, did not by any means bottleneck it. Those motivated enough found proxy sites and alternative websites to stream and download their content.

Sanket Gupta, a 22-year-old Computer Science student, says that there is a very clear appeal in online piracy with very little accountability. And that is what encourages the phenomenon. “Of course, I download films even now,” he admits. “When someone uploads a pirated film on the Internet, they usually want to make it available to the public. And so, there is no effort to hide it or take it down. And once something is on the Internet, it’s not that difficult to find if you know where to look.” Sanket adds, “Also, by the time there is a complaint and the host website is trying to take the content down, enough people have already viewed it.

Piracy of films can take place in the bedroom of a bored teenager, or the showroom of a businessman. Is there a really no way to protect copyrighted content, short of a moral revolution?