WIPO Promotes Discussion On Indian Film Industry’s Benefit From IPR

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The launch of the weeklong Indian film festival at the World Intellectual Property Organization last week brought together different speakers who stressed the importance of copyright protection for the safeguarding and development of the Indian film industry and who characterised unauthorised downloading as a danger for the industry.

The Festival of Indian Film took place at WIPO headquarters from 3-7 December. It paid a tribute to one hundred years of Indian cinema by screening emblematic movies such as 36 Chowringhee Lane, Barfi!, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and 3 Idiots.

Speakers at the 3 December opening event stressed the complexity of factors that allow unauthorised downloading of movies and the negative consequences this has on the Indian film industry- both monetarily and with regard to creative ownership.

India is the largest producer of feature film in the world,” WIPO Director General Francis Gurry told the gathering. “The film industry is very much dependent upon the copyright system as a means of financing and enabling returns to be given to investors in films. It is a large generator of employment.”

Uday Kumar Varma, secretary of the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, added that, “Films and creativity go together and without promoting the rights of the creators, the art of film making is not being promoted.”

The speakers were followed by a screening of the film Barfi!, India’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film category at the 85th Academy Awards in 2013. Barfi! Director Aruna Basu, present at the event, stressed that illegal downloading harms the revenues of the film industry and so, affects the quality of cinema that is produced by Indian directors.

Some solutions for fighting piracy were discussed. Varma said that enacting laws such as the 2012 Indian Copyright Act – which makes authors and other artists the owners of their work in film and requires television channels to pay royalties to owners any time a work is broadcast – is not enough. In India, the general public does not perceive illegal downloading as a crime, he said. Varma stressed the need for awareness-raising and the necessity for stakeholders to develop business strategies to tackle piracy.

To the audience, Basu highlighted that films are often copied and illegally showed on cable television channels the same day the film is released in theaters. The Barfi! director argued that releasing the official DVDs earlier, like a week after the films enter theaters, could bring a cheap and legal alternative solution for the viewers, and so diminish the incentive for the cable TV channels to illegally program the films on TV. It is unclear how this would address the underlying problem that many people lack the financial resources to buy the DVDs and own a DVD player. For the majority of the Indian population, watching the movies on cable TV remains the only option to access them.

The speakers were in agreement on the positive impact an event like the one organised at WIPO has on the promotion of Bollywood movies by helping to draw global attention to this industry and boost the desire of Indian film directors, as expressed by Basu, to expand outside India.

Indian film festivals are not a rarity any more in any part of the world, but in an international organisation a film festival is perhaps a first,” said Dilip Sinha, the Indian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva. “WIPO is the most appropriate forum to organise a festival of Indian films. This is the forum for protecting IP, for creating IP laws, and the film industry in India is the most creative industry in the country which provides entertainment around the world.”

Observers have argued that while there is a need to protect the rights of artists as a reward for their work, there also is a need to encourage creation and innovation through affordable access to works. Many consider that the approach to stemming unauthorised downloading could be nuanced. Accessing content cheaply or freely is very often the only way for poor audiences to access cultural goods and information of which they would otherwise be totally deprived. According to a recent World Bank report, approximately 30 percent of the Indian population lives below the poverty line – which is 28.65 rupees per capita daily consumption in cities and 22.42 rupees in rural areas. In comparison, the average ticket price of a movie in India is 27 rupees (0.5 USD). By this measure, it is virtually impossible for a third of the Indian population to see the movies in theater.

Audience access is an essential component of film industry success, as well as of creativity. The message on the loss of revenue from authorised downloading was clear at WIPO. What was not quite as clear was how IP rights will help the rest of the population to participate in this aspect of their culture.

William New contributed to this article.

Tiphaine Nunzia Caulier recently graduated with a Master in International Law from the Graduate Institute in Geneva and UCLA School of Law. Through her work experiences and academic interests she has specialized in international trade, intellectual property, and public health.

Tiphaine Nunzia Caulier may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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