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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The World Wide Web of Piracy

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Most of us, if not all of us, have at some point of the other picked up a $2 movie from the pavement or a spice / ethnic video store. Or, we might have surfed the internet seeking a website that enables us to watch our favourite TV / video content. While the quality of the video might be far less than average, most of us feel we got good value for money since the legal copy would cost $25 or more. A saving of over 1000% is just too good to turn away from.

And if the pirate DVD has 2-4 films squeezed into one disc then the saving can be even more substantial. Very few of us give thought to the matter of content piracy. While we may think that we’re getting a super duper deal we are in fact committing an offence and giving a boost to crime by purchasing pirate products. Think of it as someone stealing the buns and patties from the McDonald’s warehouse and then packaging them under a different brand and selling it around the street corner for 1/10 the cost. How is this possible?

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Because the content is stolen and the pirates have far fewer overheads including obligations to the Tax Office and the Government.

The flip side of this discussion from a viewer perspective is that why do consumers have to pay exorbitant price for good content? Why do companies have differential pricing across different regions which can be predatory at times? Australia ranks as one of the nations at the leading edge of piracy and a country where content is very expensive.

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A dubious istinction that we needn’t be proud of but the two issues go hand in hand. In this multi billion dollar drama where companies try and protect their revenue and pirates try and make a quick buck its usually the unsuspecting customer who gets burnt or commits a crime without completely comprehending the ramifications of the choices made.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are more ways of accessing content and at a fraction of the price that we used to pay. And if you’re a tech savvy person then you’re probably with it or know the best price alternatives to buying full price DVDs @ $25 a piece or paying in excess of $100 for your PayTV subscription.

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CONSUMING CONTENT IN DIGITAL AGE

The internet has changed everything and continues to spur innovation in media. Optus has recently launched a system whereby two or more devices can be connected by a single connection thereby cutting the need to buy more contracts or sim cards for their tablets or mobile phones. People are increasingly mobile and like to watch videos on the go.

Increasing use of tablets and smartphones also opens many doors to access contents online. Youtube was the pioneer for hosting online video content. Now, all content publishers have a presence on Youtube or host their video content on their own platform for their audiences.

Not to be outdone the home entertainment industry is playing catch up. Gone are the days of VCR and DVD players. Apple and Google have come up with apps and Samrt TVs which enables consumers to watch online content on their big flat screens with their home entertainment system converting their living room into a movie theatre.

Gone are the days of purchasing a copy of any movies from the nearest video store when it can be purchased online sometimes even as soon as the movies are come off the cinemas.

According to Roy Morgan market share data, the number of viewers using Fetch TV (Australia’s leading IPTV service provider for Indians & Pakistanis), TiVO and Apple TV services increased from 625,000 in 2012 to 887,000 in 2013, compared with Foxtel’s reported 2.3 million subscribers in 2012 and 2.5 million in 2013.

These figures provide an indication of the growing strength of IPTV technology. In such a market, the traditional subscription television players are under increasing pressure from substitutes, legal and illegal, as broadband speeds increase and smart devices
proliferate.

RISE OF INTERNET & AUSTRALIA

Regarding the growth in IPTV popularity, former Austar CEO identified it as a ‘bullet train heading towards the industry’. In its report to the ACMA, PwC identified two key trends that are likely to shape how Australians access and consume content over the next five years:

Increasing speed of fixed internet connections – The continued proliferation of smart devices and supporting communications networks.2 While IPTV is likely to be a major competitor to the traditional subscription television-broadcasting platform, pressure is also likely to come from other content distribution channels including illegally downloaded content.

According to an Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) report, 33% of the Australian adult population (aged 18+) is active in some form of movie piracy (downloading, streaming, buying counterfeit, borrowing unauthorised, burning), with an estimated 92 million pirated movies obtained or watched in the 12 months up to Quarter 3 2010. It is irrefutable that increasing speeds in fixed internet connections will contribute to the use of illegal downloading, adding further pressure to the subscription broadcasters.

FLOODING THE MARKET

Of late there has been a huge proliferation of IPTV or INTERNET BOXES that allow you to watch any and all the content that we could possibly want. In the early days of online piracy it was a few Indian or Pakistani channels from back home that were available through these IPTV boxes but lately most of these boxes have tons of Hollywood and sports content as well.

You see these products at stalls put up at various community festivals and events. Or you might have a friend who has a friend who can fix you up with these boxes. And its not hard to see why consumers take this route.

When you ask a vendor the question if the product or service is LEGAL? We always get an answer “Of Course! It is”. But most of these pirates are distributing content that is stolen, evade taxes, do not comply with local laws and regulations and do a dis-service to the industry by eroding the value of the content that we love to watch.

If you think that there is one or two such products in the market and piracy is only eats a small chunk of change from legal operators then we’re grossly underestimating the illegal operators’ market share. Piracy rips out tons of revenue from legal operators and could possibly usher the demise of quality content production. There are many suspect brands and boxes out there in the market e.g. JadooTV, ShavaTV, BTV, Chitram, RealTV, LiveHD and the list goes on and on.

And now due to such a larg number of illegal players there is competition amongst the pirates with each player trying to fight for the pirate revenue market share by slick marketing campaigns and price wars. But the fact remains that all things illegal have an expiry date and this is what happened with one of the market leaders in piracy; JadooTV.

JADOO TV: AN INTERNATIONAL PIRACY RACKET

the South Asian diaspora wishing to stay in touch with the shows they would have normally watched in their new country of residency. Based in US, Jadoo TV is a company run by Faisal Aftab and Sajid Sohail. This company started to supply set-top boxes which would stream shows and contents broadcasted back home.

Charging almost $300 for each box, Jadoo TV ensured that not only were they cheap but also conniving enough to con their subscribers as with their growth came the demand of more popular channels and shows for which Jadoo TV had not signed up for content broadcasting rights.

Though Jadoo TV lists some TV channels on their website that they have acquired rights for
and can legally broadcast their signals, in reality they were plagerising and stealing content from all networks and running a multi-million doillar pirate operation.

Upon a complaint lodged by Krishna Kumar, manager-distribution of Maa Television Network Limited, CCS officials raided a flat at Manasarovar apartment in Trimulgherry and picked up Mir Kashif Ali Khan, 27, a software engineer, Jagadishwara Chari, TV channels monitoring in-charge, N Sai Kumar, a tele-caller and JB Meghanandhan, a web designer, who used to illegally provide live streaming videos of several Indian satellite TV channels to Jadoo TV.

This gang’s mastermind, Sumit Ahuja, has been involved in satellite TV signal piracy from Hyderabad for over six years, Mahender Reddy said.

Sumit Ahuja rented a flat at Manasarovar apartment in the name of M/S Pearl Technology one and half years ago and started the business with a small team of technical experts. Jadoo TV has 3 components to its operation.

It was promoted by Pakistaniorigin US national Sajid Sohail who developed the Jadoo Set Top Box while the Dubai-based Pearl Media Group, promoted by CEO Faisal Aftab, worked as its content partner and Sumit Ahuja managed the distribution and sale of the boxes across the globe. The Interpol has imposed red notice alert against Sumit Ahuja, as he has been found absconding and the Hyderabad Police have seized and frozen his assets.

The Indian Telegraph contacted Sydney local, Mr. Harry Bhogal, who is the lead distributor for JadooTV in Australia for a reaction but he refused to comment on his involvement with JadooTV or the legal aspects of Jadoo’s business that he handles in Australia. The Indian Telegraph also contacted another local Sydney resident, Mr. Sahil Sood, who knows the piracy market and stated that he has no idea on the legality of the boxes available in the market. He added that legal operators are free to take whatever action they can and if legal entities are being affected they should become more aggressive in the market.

THE LEGAL CASE

In India, the Jadoo TV Network will attract the provisions of the Copyright Act. Section 63 provides for “punishment for infringement of copyright and the said copyright would be infringed if any copy etc. is made without the permission of the owner of the copyright or anything which is the exclusive right of the owner to do.” In the present matter the Jadoo TV team is infringing the copyright of the various authors of TV programs by broadcasting content without proper licensing arrangements.

Section 43 and 66 of the Information Technology Act would also apply in such cases. As per Section 43 “whoever downloads, copies or extracts any data, computer data base or information from such computer, computer system or computer network including information or data held or stored in any removable storage medium shall be liable to pay damages by way of compensation to the person so affected.” Section 66 penalizes “computer related offences with imprisonment and/ or fine.” It is apparent that Jadoo TV illicitly indulged in all such acts and hence, these provisions will apply.

In the end, under the IPC, the Jadoo TV team will be liable for criminal conspiracy to cheat under section 120 read with section 420 and for counterfeiting the satellite TV data under sections 468 and 471. There was cheating of the public by fraudulently inducing them to subscribe to their connection as well as the copyright owners by unlawfully and dishonestly downloading, streaming and extracting their contents from the internet and broadcasting the counterfeit version of their cinematographic works.

LOSING THE JADOO

Jadoo TV is not unique to this; however, this is the first known instance of such a high profile case where an arrest warrant has been issued to the distributors and owners. In the US, Aereo has faced the wrath of the US entertainment industry when they were found supplying a simple antennae connection from which customers could catch transmitted contents at next to no extra cost, straight to their TV.

Estimated loss due to Piracy

Industry Loss in USD
Music $12.5 Billion/Yr.
Video $18.5 Billion/Yr.
Software $63.4 Billion/Yr.
G20 Nations
Estimate loss for 2014 $425-$575 Billion
Estimate loss for 2015 $1.14-$1.53 Trillion*
*Excludes loss from digital piracy

Technology it seems has no bounds. However, technological innovation will always find loopholes
in the system that many pirates ravish to exploit. Interesting to note here, Jadoo TV goes around in Sydney and Australia with an ABN but continues to flout rules and indulge in coyright infringement activities. Speaking with some of the consumers of Jadoo TV, they had no idea about the legality of their purchase when informed by The Indian Telegraph about the Hyderabad bust. The services are still being played, although Jadoo TV was quick to dismiss our call when asked if the people in Hyderabad acted alone or if Jadoo TV knew of their team’s operation. “No comments” often says more than what it intends to mean.

LACK OF REGULATION

Clearly, there is a lack of regulation in the digital era that can help the industry teeth into maturity. In terms of numbers, Australia recently ranked first for illegal transmission and live streaming for the popular show Game of Thrones. Not only that, FIFA too, which was broadcast live on free to air, was a victim of these piracy.

It is becoming apparent that the law needs to catch up. Gone are the days when Kazaa and Napster were openly used for downloading and sharing music and movies and were shut down by authorities as it clearly breached copyright.

These days the savvy pirate is more aware of the rules and regulation and brings in a disruption, technological innovation and legal convulsions, that enables them to operate without being deemed as flagrant transgressors of the law.

Contradictory to other industry reports Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and New  Zealand, which are all almost 100 percent digital, rank lowest in piracy through conventional means. This is according to the results of a CASBAA survey in 2008 done in collaboration with the Creative Industries Division of Standard Chartered Bank.

In contrast, India, which suffers from heavy government regulations and a lack of digital infrastructure, remained the country with the most  revenue leakages linked to piracy in 2008.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

While the pirates move in shadows with only sketchy information being available on their operations a lot is known about the low level of regulation related to the law with respect to supply and distribution of these boxes. In a statement from Vision Asia, The Indian Telegraph was informed that the need to prove a breach is difficult and that the content rights holders, i.e. the TV channels should take up this case more seriously because it is their revenue which is being impacted.

Vision Asia CEO, Gurudutt Satigrama, said, “The pirates have now overtaken legal operators in market share. They control 2/3 of the total ethnic PayTV market which is a cause of great concern”. Vision Asia is one of the few lawabiding and legal PayTV service providers in the Australian market. They are the largest South Asian DTH service provider in the Australian market having been in the market for over 10 years.

In another instance, Tony Ishak CEO of World TV Media has seized this challenge to address the need for proper regulations for Over The Top (OTT) and IP based content sharing. He stated, “Piracy is a big problem in Australia and IPTV is sinister. It took me more than 3 years to bring positive action… and the mainstream being affected by it will only add more impetus to the actions that need to be taken to protect the industry”.

World TV Media runs Pay TV services for three language groups in Australia; Greek, Italian and Arabic. Needless to say, they are facing breach of copyright and know illegal transmission of their content is being routed online. For Tony, the solution lies in creating a body probably under the governance of ACMA to self regulate and correct the market. Therefore if a PayTV operator provides PayTV services then this company should be under obligation to pass on details related to content rights and associated legalities to this body. This will help in weeding out outright pirates and will allow the market to compete giving customers the best price.

There are other aspects of business that gets affected too. Service and content providers go to great lengths in winning broadcast rights, often involving millions of dollars. Along with this they also need to provide assurances that the contents will be broadcast solely by the provider and nobody else, meaning, a service provider has to ensure that safeguards are in place to reduce or eliminate piracy.

However, in the age of digitisation, such safeguards are difficult to enforce. For instance, any subscriber to Fetch TV or Vision Asia, can find similar contents online that they can download, store and watch it at their convenient time for free. Thus paying for subscription based content seems to be a waste of money.

MOVING FORWARD

In light of this piracy of content, piracy of transmission and pirate viewing are all tantamount to supporting organised crime. Piracy also often has an indirect impact when networks loose out to the pirates and have to close shop thereby directly impacting upon its work force who are forced into redundancy.

Consumers have a right to cheaper alternatives but must always research and find out more about the company. Cheaper does not necessarily mean better but it certainly increases competition in the market. When in doubt, always check about the new service provider from an already established service provider.

There is a good chance that they will know about the other and you as the consumer can be a better judge which service provider to get your entertainment service from. If the new entity is legal then the only upside is you may get better prices from the older service provider you contact. In the case of Jadoo TV since it is known that the pirates are part of a larger international crime network action taken by the Indian Police now involves international law enforcement agencies such as the Interpol.

In Australia, the government has come out in strong favour of legal Pay-TV operators to curb and tackle the growing number of piracy related transmission and streaming of content from unverified sources. The content providers have also realised that gone are the days when they could charge high rates and premiums for their content.

In this day and age of fragmented attention and high degree of substitutes it is imperative to provide consumers the choice to pick and choose what they want to see, when they want to see it and the device they want to view the content on at a price that doesn’t take a big bite out of their pocket. Readers wanting quality Hindi content that is legal with good after sales support and accountability can contact any of the service providers mentioned below.

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