New Delhi: How did original series streamed on Disney+Hotstar, shows from the Star Plus, Star Gold, Star World and Star Sports television channels, and new Fox Star Studio movies get illegally shared on the internet?
The same way that season 4 of the Netflix original Stranger Things was leaked. Or the Kangana Ranaut-starrer Dhaakad became available online, days before its theatre release.
An FIR filed by streaming platform Disney Star against alleged piracy of their content has again brought to the fore a problem that industry insiders claim has long troubled production houses, and, of late, OTT platforms.
Legal action and attempts at building public awareness against piracy have all failed to help, they add.
According to the FIR filed by Disney Star in Bengaluru last week, accessed by ThePrint, the OTT platform has accused four platforms — Tamilrockers, TamilMV, TamilBlasters and PikaShow — of illegally releasing content owned by it.
“We have suffered from torrent websites that are illegally recording and releasing new content from our platform. Tamilrockers, TamilMV, Tamilblasters and Pikashow app have been active and taking content from platforms like ‘Hotstar’ and ‘Star India’. Several ads were also taken from the platform illegally without permission,” alleged the FIR.
The legal provisions invoked in the FIR are Section 66 of the Information Technology Act (computer-related offences), besides Section 63 (offence of infringement of copyright or other rights conferred by Copyright Act) and Section 65 (possession of plates for purpose of making copies) of the Copyright Act, besides Section 420 of the IPC (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property).
ThePrint reached the Disney Star public relations representative over the phone for a comment, but hadn’t received a response until the publication of this report.
Santosh Ram, the Station House Officer for the Bengaluru Police Cybercrime Cell, said, “Yes, we were approached by Disney Star and lodged an FIR over this.”
Just as production houses and cinema halls risk losing revenue because of piracy, for OTT platforms too, loss of subscribers and advertisers owing to piracy translates into a loss of earnings.
According to a report by the London-based Digital TV Research, OTT players in India risked losing an estimated revenue of $3.08 billion by 2022 because of piracy, where the revenue loss to piracy worldwide was pegged at $52 billion.
Meanwhile, a joint report published by content delivery network Akamai and tech company MUSO (which provides anti-piracy solutions) shows that global demand for pirated content went up between January 2021 and September 2021.
India, it said, recorded 6.5 billion visits to piracy websites, the third-highest after the US (13.5 billion) and Russia (7.2 billion).
What are torrent websites
Piracy refers to the act of illegally reproducing or circulating copyrighted content such as music, films, shows, books etc.
When it comes to audio-visual entertainment content, torrent websites are a common way of making pirated content available.
The websites get their name from the process of torrenting — a kind of online peer-to-peer sharing. Here, a user could download or upload files through an online network instead of a central server.
Every ‘peer’ involved in this act is either downloading or uploading files from each other. To do so, one must first download software, available for free online, to enable torrenting.
Torrent websites also allow users to share files copyrighted by other platforms, since it is moving from one device to another — peers transfer files between them, from one device to another, making it difficult to track the source.
These copyrighted files could include movies, series, games and music. But done without permission of the copyright owner, the process becomes illegal and causes loss to the content-makers.
Tech improvement in the past few years has only helped those involved in piracy.
What took one hour to download now takes minutes with a good broadband connection. People have started using VPN services, or virtual private networks, to download from torrent websites in order to hide source from internet service providers (ISP). There are now apps that allow users to download or stream illegally on their phones.
Users have also started streaming movies or series online, through domains that shift often to remain undetected. One common example of this in India is ‘fmovies’, a platform where one can stream movies for free.
‘Not for the first time’
According to industry leaders, this is not the first time that a complaint has been lodged against torrent websites like Tamilrockers — said to be one of the most common torrent sites visited by Indians for pirated content.
Although called Tamilrockers — because it started operations in Chennai and continues to operate from there among other places, according to sources — it offers content in many languages.
In 2019, three Tamilrockers members were arrested after they released new films of camera-quality (good quality) prints on the platform for free. The year before, the suspected admin of Tamilrockers was arrested by Kerala Police. The cases are sub judice, while the accused are out on bail.
“The battle with Tamilrockers has been a long one, they have been very clever in their ways and they mainly function from places like Malaysia and Dubai. This is not the first time that content has been pirated so brazenly. They have streamed movies online despite receiving multiple legal notices. Their racket is the biggest as compared to the rest,” Ravi Kottarakara, general secretary, Film Federation of India, told ThePrint.
Kottarakara added: “It is also because we don’t have strict laws against piracy in India and hence they found a thriving market. The Copyright Act states 2 years of jail time if proven guilty and that is not enough for stealing content worth crores.”
Pikashow, THOP TV (closed in a police crackdown last year), fmovies are other popular sites in the country for pirated content. ‘Songs.pk’ has pirated Bollywood songs from the early 2000s, while websites like ‘9anime’ provides free anime content illegally.
Last year, Zee Entertainment Enterprises filed a complaint after pirated versions of the Salman Khan-starrer Radhe reportedly started being circulated on messaging platforms, including WhatsApp and Telegram.
Several producers’ and directors’ associations in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere have taken up the fight against piracy.
According to sources in the Indian OTT industry, “films and series from the south are doing incredibly well these days. Hence, they also draw the attention of pirates”.
A producer who wished to remain anonymous said “piracy in India happens in four stages”.
“The first is from the edit table. There have been cases where people have been bribed in crores to get the first print. Second, when it goes to the Central Board of Film Certification, there are have been instances when the source of the leak was cited from here. Third is the distribution phase, and the fourth when the movies are sent abroad for screening,” the producer added.
“Countries like Malaysia and UAE where piracy is rampant receive copies of new films at least a week before the release date. This is where expatriates help in coordinating. Again, it is because of corruption that these copies get distributed to the wrong people.”
The police is alert to take action against piracy — last year Maharashtra Police arrested the CEO of a popular piracy website and stopped all operations.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)