Bollywood battles piracy in West

Washington, Feb 12: In the last few years, many Bollywood movies have begun to do remarkably well at the box office in countries like England and America. As a result, the money from overseas sales is now a significant part of the total income that any movie makes. In some movies, the overseas income is as high as 70-80 per cent of the income from India...
...But the actual income that producers get from overseas sales is in fact just a fraction of what they should.

Piracy of Bollywood movies in England and America is so widespread that it is estimated to cause a loss of over 40 per cent of all overseas sales.

But what annoys the Bollywood movie industry the most is the blatant and open way in which piracy is allowed to function in the West – the very nations which constantly complain about India violating patents, copyright and intellectual property rights.

In almost any Indian shop in the West, the latest Bollywood movie can be rented for just a dollar or less.

"Usually I will come by every week to see what's new and take them. I am always up to date with new movies. I like to see the film as soon as it is released in Bombay theaters," said one Bollywood film buff in New York.

Film piracy affects everyone along the movie industry's chain – from the producer to the distributor to the exhibitor. The Bollywood film industry may well make over 800 films a year but it loses over $350 million annually due to piracy.

But unlike Hollywood, the Indian film industry has no strong and unified body to combat piracy worldwide in an organized manner.

Instead, producers and distributors often act as lone rangers, raiding Indian video parlours from time to time, making it almost impossible to fight the menace.

Little remedy

Across the Atlantic, in England, piracy of Bollywood movies is rampant and the worry is that even when caught, the punishment is too light.

"The local authorities at the trading standards level are very helpful. The problem is that once we've done our job and it goes down to the magistrate – when you finally get it to court, those people are let off with a slap on the wrist and a 3000 pound fine," said Avtar Panesar, Global Operations, Yash Raj Films.

The United Kingdom is one of the largest overseas markets for the Indian film industry. But at the same time, London is also notorious for large-scale piracy of Indian films.

According to official estimates, three out of every 10 videos sold is a fake and the number for DVDs is much higher.

"There is absolutely no fear there. Theoretically, there is a 10-year imprisonment if you're caught infringing trademarks, but we've yet to see anything like that being implemented. Yes, the law is in place, but implementation is a problem," added Avtar.

But with the British film industry losing over 400 million pounds every year to piracy themselves, protecting Indian interests is clearly not a major concern.

International copyright lawyers argue that with Bollywood losing hundreds of millions of dollars through piracy on the streets of London and New York and all over the West, it's time the western governments are asked to drop their double standards and take action to stop piracy in their own backyards.