Sultan, Kabali, Udta Punjab, Great Grand Masti
Pictured: Sultan, Kabali, Udta Punjab, Great Grand MastiCollage of photos taken from Twitter and Facebook

Indian film industry is estimated to have suffered a huge loss of Rs 18,000 crore from the piracy of "Sultan," "Kabali," "Udta Punjab," "Great Grand Masti" and other movies. Indian cinema is one of the largest film industries in the global market and produces over 1,000 movies in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali, Punjabi and some other languages every year.

The industry earns around Rs. 13,442 crore ($2 billion) from the screening of movies in theatres, TV, music, DVD and other rights. But the shocking fact is that piracy earns Rs 18,000 crore ($2.7 billion), which is 35 per cent more than actual earnings of the industry.

Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment was a victim of piracy with "Dilwale" struggling to gross Rs 148 crore at the box office last year, while its pirated version grossed a much higher amount. Recent films like "Sultan," "Kabali," "Great Grand Masti" and "Udta Punjab", which were leaked online before their release in theatres, have left the filmmakers shocked. This happened despite several steps to prevent piracy.

"Content theft or piracy in the film industry originates from 'camcording' in cinema halls. Over 90 per cent of new release titles originate from cinemas. The infringing copies appear online within few hours of a film release," Uday Singh, Managing Director, Motion Picture Distributors' Association (India) told IANS.

"The Indian film industry loses around Rs 18,000 crore ($2.7 billion) and over 60,000 jobs every year because of piracy," he added.

The film industry is projected to grow from Rs 138.2 billion ($2.09 billion) in 2015 to Rs 226.3 billion ($3.43 billion) by 2020 at an annual growth rate of 10.5 per cent, according to the latest KPMG-FICCI report on the Indian media and entertainment sector. But piracy could also grow exponentially unless checked.

"Currently, the government is focused on inclusive society initiatives, aimed at connecting villages via broadband. This has the potential to incentivise piracy, as people would find it much easier to watch a movie on their laptop than travel to far off theatres. Hence, there is need for a collective, structured, scientific, multi-pronged and proactive approach to combat piracy," the report said.

Adding another dimension, Patrick Kilbride, Executive Director for International IP with Global Intellectual Property Center of the US Chamber of Commerce, said that piracy also limits the economic contribution which creativity can make in India. "Issues such as copyright infringement, film piracy, camcording and content leakage weaken the industry by hampering the deserved revenue production," said Kilbride.

Stakeholders said some sophisticated technologies like the watermarking of prints, which allow producers or rights holders to monitor the usage and movement of each print across the globe, have also not been able to stop piracy.

"New technologies, including digitisation of film prints, have cut the cost of recording, storing and copying of films for distribution. Risks involved in leaking and piracy have also increased manifold," said Lavin Hirani, Head of Legal Affairs, Red Chillies Entertainment.

"Unfortunately, these technologies are not enough to protect the clandestine recording of pirated versions -- done 90 per cent of the times with a camcorder or high-quality mobile camera in a low-light setting of a cinema theatre, or from the projector room," Hirani added.

There is also the recent prevalence of pirated versions of Indian films swarming the market and the internet a day or two before their actual release, since distributors opt for a simultaneous global screening, which requires the dispatch of prints some 10-12 days in advance.

"Some territories like in the UAE, they release films a day prior to the Indian release date -- which is typically a Friday. This is one of the reasons why a film is leaked before its actual release," he added.

Rajkumar Akella, Chairman of the Anti Video Piracy Cell, Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce, echoed a similar line of thought. "Earlier, one odd film would get accidentally leaked before release date. But these days, pre-release piracy leaks have become a recurring feature, which is very alarming for the industry," Akella told IANS.

What then is the solution?

Anurag Basu told World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) that people need to understand that piracy is a crime. "Piracy is working because people can buy a (pirated) DVD for Rs 100 and a whole family can watch it. We have to offer that kind of entertainment at that price. It has to be as easy to get an original DVD as it is to get a pirated one," he said.

Hirani said there's no single method or step. "Possible measures would require concerted efforts by all stakeholders, including the state and central governments which lose tremendous amount of money in taxes from the sale, distribution and exhibition of films."