VCR: Government wakes up to 51-year-old problem

It has been more than 50 years since the VCR - video cassette recorder / player brought home viewing of films to India. It is also the time when video piracy also took roots.

It has been more than 50 years since the video cassette recorder / player brought home viewing of films to India. It is also the time when video piracy also took roots. Owning a VCR was a luxury and watching a feature film at home was a privilege. Unfortunately, the films which were available on video cassettes were mostly pirated.

There were various ways of pirating a feature film. These included hijacking a film print for a few hours while it was being dispatched to nearby cinemas, or copying prints being sent to overseas markets (usually dispatched a week before a film’s India release as it needed to complete censor and other formalities in the respective country), but the cheapest and crudest way to copy a film was to make a camera print while watching a film. The format was new and people did not mind even watching such copies.

Is it not odd that the government has woken up after so many years to the issue of piracy and unauthorised exhibition of films? What is the provocation, 51 years since the problem first reared its head? The government has labelled cam-cording of a film in a theatre as an offence. Does it still happen? I don’t think so.

The piracy as it was done in the 1970s and 80s does not happen now. Yes, unauthorised exhibition of films happens big time and, no, these are not pirated prints as the government believes. The prints are acquired through unauthorized means without the acquisition of rights and are made available through the Internet.

The Government has amended the Cinematograph Act 1952. The new legislation is the Cinematograph Amendment Bill 2023. It provides for blocking websites transmitting unauthorised content.

Films from 1932 onwards, mostly from the later eras, are available on the Net. How does the government plan to determine which film is authorised and which one is not? Most of the OTT platforms operate from countries other than India and blocking a popular portal may not solve the problem because blocking does not guarantee no access. Yes, maybe you could try blocking the revenue flows to such portals.

The Bill does not mention piracy of music, which, probably, generates much more revenue for the pirates and other unlawful content providers.

–By Vinod Mirani

Agency News Desk
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