Monday, September 13, 2010

Dabangg: Record Breaking Piracy


Within 15 hours of its release in India, over 50 websites were showing the entire movie of Dabangg. In 24 hours the numbers were over 200. When we did our view and download count at the end of Sunday, 72 hours after the movie had released, we were taken aback by the final tally after crunching the numbers – over 150,000 downloads in high-conservative assessment. In terms of dollar value at a 10 dollars ticket price, it is 1.5 million dollars (US) in the first 72 hours that has been lost. In Indian Rupees it comes to approximately – 6.8 Crores, an amount that could easily finance a couple of movies. It becomes the largest value of piracy in the first three days of a Hindi movie’s release, as per our knowledge and records.
But the fury with which Dabangg was pushed online raises a big red flag – the shelf life of the movie reduced to 24 hours – is quite reminiscent of the mid eighties – VHS piracy days. Not one, but two different versions of the entire movie were released online. The pre-dub version and a camera print. The pre-dub version arrived first, followed by a few hours later by the camera print. The pre-dub version even has English subtitles for your viewing pleasure, in case you are one of those who just hates watching pirated videos without their subtitles. While the camera print seems to have come out from one of the theaters in India.
The appointed anti-piracy company Republiq, which the opening titles declared as Dabangg’s anti-piracy partner, have hardly managed to contain the piracy in its policing efforts.

Who is funding this campaign?
Everyone with a free website and a Google ad account can earn from every possible content published. There are at least an estimated few dozen (if not in hundreds) people in India and abroad who whip out their video cameras every Friday evening and visit the theaters to record off the screen the latest movie from India.
Organized crime, too has found that paying its way to get the hands on a master print copy reaps huge benefits via torrent, streaming and other sites, including a major revenue chunk that comes from DVDs created from the pirated copy. The distribution network for these pirated DVDs could put some of the legitimate companies in this business to shame. In a matter of 2-5 days almost every Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi store serving the South Asian diaspora abroad, gets its hands on the copy of the DVD that they buy for less than 10 bucks. And some South Asian store owners (many in fact), have progressed to directlydownloading the movie, creating DVDs and selling or renting them out from their very own stores.
There have been rumors in the past of producers/filmmakers selling their own movie to pirates to make a quick buck that would otherwise be none available in their calculations, but these remain rumors and cannot be confirmed.
Another unconfirmed rumor exists that video storage websites themselves have been involved in funding moves to get their hands on pre release master copies. The value of websites measured in terms of volume of visitors makes Indian films an easy target, in order to achieve high volume of visitors.

On the other hand, what is a known fact is that – Producing a DVD in today’s world is like killing all commercial prospects of your movie with your own bare hands. Torrent and Streaming sites get flooded again with the same movie’s copy now with “DVD Rip”, “HQ” labels attached to the movie’s title.

Piracy is here and is not going away. Anti-piracy policing is small way to check things out but one can’t keep piracy in check as is evident by Dabangg’s mass piracy online.
We believe only 5 to 10% of a movie’s piracy can be put in check and the cost of running the operation would be way higher than perhaps most of the producers could afford.

Keeping movies to a limited release, a few theaters is another way to go. This could explain why smaller films, documentaries do not make it to the piracy pool. Udaan, a small budget film, released with limited prints is one such example, but how much damage is done by not getting it a wider release is for the producers and distributors to analyze. This tactic could only delay but not prevent its eventual illegal copies that came online within 10 days of its theatrical release.
DRM protection embraced by Netflix, Apple, Dingora and other companies shows that the solutions to piracy are on the internet rather than off it. The recent successful handshakes between Hollywood and Apple and Netflix and the Bengali film industry moving to Dingora are clear signs that protection of a movie is more secure in today’s online technology than trying to secure a theater, the entry and exit points in post production and protected DVD discs.
Tight control over various post production stages is another way to go, but it is an almost impossible task. As in the case of Dabangg, the pre-dub copy came out 

somewhere before the dubbing began.
It is a known fact that in interior areas, prints at night are smuggled out of even theaters to get them pirated on discs during the night and moved back the theaters they came from

What happens now?
We expect another wave of surge in piracy once the final numbers of Dabangg are crunched by the pirates. The illegal download and streaming of Dabangg has been unprecedented and not been seen before. The maximum damage will occur on the next big releases unless some major security is beefed up around all post production stages and theaters that the law knows have served as the place where the eggs were cooked.
But in the end, it is upto the producers and filmmakers to realize that the hunger for watching movies already exists online. Thequestion is how do you tap it, quickly and positively