Pirates Of The Internet

Sometimes back I read a status update on Facebook. The status was:

When you listen to original music from a CD on amazing quality Philips Sound headsets, you realize the difference between the downloaded crap and quality music!
Another lesson for the day- Piracy sucks, truly!

It triggered a chain of thoughts in my mind. Piracy is so ubiquitous in India and it hardly gets any attention. Many people don’t even know what piracy is or even if they know, they don’t know that indulging in piracy is a criminal offence.

A study sponsored by Human Resource Development Ministry of Government of India and titled Study On Copyright Piracy In India (year 1999) defines piracy as unauthorized reproduction, importing or distribution either of the whole or of a substantial part of works protected by copyright.

Tanmay, a movie-freak, is a heavy downloader of pirated stuff . He downloads almost every new movie in Marathi, Hindi and English, songs in those three languages, video games and necessary softwares over his LAN (Local Area Network) and internet connection. But he is not alone in this respect. Piracy is as pervasive as PCs and mobile phones. The storage capacities of computers and mobile phones are increasing by leaps and bounds. Hence, the number of movies or songs that can be stored on them has also increased. But hardly any of these songs or movies are legally acquired.

Most of the times what happens is, a guy who is tech-savvy and has a fast broadband connection, downloads movies, songs and other stuff from internet and later passes on to his peers. Making a copy of a song or a movie is very easy and there is no any kind loss to the original owner. Also, though piracy is illegal, hardly any action is taken against the law-breakers. This all has helped piracy grow tremendously in India as well as world-over.

Piracy causes hundreds of crores of rupees in losses to the culture industries. Indian Music Industries (IMI) is the most vocal body against the piracy and is trying hard to curb it. In countries like USA, record labels have sued digital pirates and won the cases too. Napster and Limewire are some of the famous examples. But the trend is new in India. Couple of years ago, the CEO of Indian search engine Guruji.com was arrested for allegedly indulging in piracy over a case filed by T-series.

Digitization has been a bane to the record labels. Their sales have dwindled in the last decade. The iTunes and Hungama.com of the world have also been not much of a help. But it is not just business losses that everyone is worried about. The effect on artistic innovation is also a concern. The whole concept of copyright was created for the same reason.

The “Study On Copyright Piracy In India” states, Copyright is the right given by law to the creators of literary, dramatic, musical and a variety of other works of mind. It ordinarily means the creator alone has the right to make copies of his or her works or alternatively, prevents all others from making such copies. The basic idea behind such protection is the premise that innovations require incentives. Copyright recognises this need and gives it a legal sanction. Moreover, commercial exploitation of copyright yields income to the creators and thus making pecuniary rewards to individual’s creativity.

“Piracy is no different from corruption”, says Siddhesh Vojhala, an employee of Tech Giant IBM. “You can compare piracy to corruption. People want a corruption free country. It starts from us. Piracy is also the same. Every guy on the internet is prone to this disease. We should make ourselves understand that we shouldn’t download pirated stuff. Rather we should have the guts to buy the original products”, he says.

Study On Copyright Piracy In India compares piracy to theft. The author of a copyrighted work, being the owner, enjoys certain exclusive rights with respect to his or her works. These include right to reproduce, to publish, to adopt, to translate and to perform in public. The owner can also sell, assign, license or bequeath the copyright to another party if he wishes so. If any person other than the copyright owner or his authorised party undertakes any of the above mentioned activities with respect to a copyrighted product, it amounts to infringement of the copyright. Copyright piracy is thus like any other theft which leads to loss to the owners of the property, it states.

But Swedish sociologist of law Stefan Larsson staunchly contests this comparison in his thesis “Metaphors and Norms: Understanding Copyright Law in a Digital Society.” He says, “The theft-metaphor is problematic in the sense that a key element of stealing is that the one stolen from loses the object, which is not the case in file sharing since it is copied. There is no loss when something is copied, or the loss is radically different from losing something like your bike.”

The other assumption made by record labels and such others is that every pirated copy is a lost sale. But that is far from the truth. Bhagyesh Rathod, a mass media student, uses pirated stuff rampantly. When asked a hypothetical question that if he would not be able to indulge in piracy, had he bought the content? He said, “Not really. Instead I would have cut down my consumption of media drastically.”

Piracy has liberated the popular culture. Earlier popular culture was the domain of middle class and the upper classes. But if there is any trickle-down effect, it is here. A guy with a mobile of not more than Rs. 3000 also has hundreds of songs in his palm. Due to piracy, the sheer consumption of culture products has increased exponentially. People are trying new genres of music and watching old and artistic movies. I know a group of people who live in a hostel. They don’t have a TV. They can’t even afford to go a theater to watch movies. But they download every new movie on their mobile phones and watch.

But people still buy the real thing. The main reason is quality and the aspirational value. No matter how great your home theatre system is, it can not replace the experience of going out with your friends to watch a movie.

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