Premam Movie: Online Piracy and the film industry

Piracy is a term we are frequently hearing since, last two weeks, where the censor copy of the Nivin Pauly starrer Malayalam Super hit movie “Premam”, was available online. The movie already collected around 30 Crore in the Box Office. Since, then internet piracy and the copyright infringement became a hot topic of discussion across the media in the South Indian State, Kerala. Here, in this era of net neutrality and other trending issues of freedom of speech and expression in the internet world, online piracy is becoming a serious concern to the film industry, not only to the Malayalam film industry but also to the film industry across the globe. In this scenario, let us try to understand the legal aspects related to piracy, viz. what is piracy? When an act amount to piracy? Who has got the right over a movie for its public display? And of course the concept of copyright infringement and the punishment prescribed under the statute.

The term “piracy” used to refer to the unauthorized copying, distribution and selling of works in copyright. Piracy traditionally refers to acts of copyright infringement intentionally committed for financial gain, though more recently, copyright holders have described online copyright infringement, particularly in relation to peer-to-peer file sharing networks, as “piracy”. Article 12 of the 1886 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works uses the term “piracy” in relation to copyright infringement, stating, “Pirated works may be seized on importation into those countries of the Union where the original work enjoys legal protection” ((Panethiere, Darrell, “The Persistence of Piracy: The Consequences for Creativity, for Culture, and for Sustainable Development“, UNESCO e-Copyright Bulletin. p. 2. (July–September 2005) available at last accessed on July 9, 2015)). Article 61 of the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) requires criminal procedures and penalties in cases of “wilful trademark counterfeiting or copyright piracy on a commercial scale ((Correa, Carlos Maria; Li, Xuan, Intellectual Property Enforcement: International Perspectives, Edward Elgar Publishing. p. 208. ISBN 978-1-84844-663-2 (2009))).”

By virtue of Section 13 (1) (b) of the Copyright Act, 1957, copyright subsist throughout India for cinematograph films. Subject to the provisions of Section 17 of the Copyright Act, 1957, the author of a work shall be the first owner of the copyright therein. By virtue of Section 2 (d) of the Copyright Act, 1957, the producer shall be the author in relation to a cinematograph or sound recording. For the purpose of this Act, “Cinematograph film” means any work of visual recording on any medium produced through a process from which a moving image may be produced by any means and includes a sound recording accompanying such visual recording and “cinematograph” shall be construed as including any work produced by any process analogous to cinematography including video films.

So here in the case of Premam movie, its producer Anwar Rasheed is the first owner of the copyright over the film Premam. Such copyright provides an exclusive right to Anwar Rasheed, to make a copy of the film including a photograph of any image forming part thereof, to sell or give on hire, or offer for sale or hire, any copy of the sound recording and to communicate the sound recording to the public. Here in this context it is essential to understand two concepts like reproduction and communication to public.

Communication to the public means making any work available for being seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed by the public directly or by any means of display or diffusion. It is not necessary that any member of the public actually sees, hears or otherwise enjoys the work so made available. For example, a cable operator may transmit a cinematograph film, which no member of the public may see. Still it is a communication to the public. The fact that the work in question is accessible to the public is enough to say that the work is communicated to the public.

The right of reproduction commonly means that no person shall make one or more copies of a work or of a substantial part of it in any material form including sound and film recording without the permission of the copyright owner. For the purpose of this Act, reproduction occurs in storing of a work in the computer memory. Therefore, it could be even concluded that, downloading a movie or song and saving the same in a computer or laptop could also be an offence under this Act.

Hence, the act of uploading a copy of the movie Premam and even sharing the same through various online as well as offline media is a clear case of copyright infringement and the producer of the film Premam, Anwar Rasheed has every right to take necessary legal action against those who infringed his rights protected under the Copyright Act, 1957.

Any person who knowingly infringes or abets the infringement of;

  1. the copyright in a work, or
  2. any other right conferred by this Act, except the right conferred by section 53A;

shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to three years and with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees but which may extend to two lakh rupees.

Provided that, where the infringement has not been made for gain in the course of trade or business, the court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgement, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than six months or a fine of less than fifty thousand rupees.

By virtue of Section 63 B, Knowing use of infringing copy of computer programme is also to be an offence. Any person who knowingly makes use on a computer of an infringing copy of a computer programme shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven days but which may extend to three years and with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees but which may extend to two lakh rupees. Provided that where the computer programme has not been used for gain or in the course of trade or business, the court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, not impose any sentence of imprisonment and may impose a fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees.

Therefore, it could be concluded that, even a person who has watched the film online could be punished under the provisions of Copyright Act, 1957 for the offence of copyright infringement. For the purpose of this Act, a copyright shall deemed to be infringed;

  1. when any person, without a licence granted by the owner of the copyright or the Registrar of Copyrights under this Act or in contravention of the conditions of a licence so granted or of any condition imposed by a competent authority under this Act—
  2. does anything, the exclusive right to do which is by this Act conferred upon the owner of the copyright, or
  3. permits for profit any place to be used for the communication of the work to the public where such communication constitutes an infringement of the copyright in the work, unless he was not aware and had no reasonable ground for believing that such communication to the public would be an infringement of copyright; or

when any person—

  1. distributes either for the purpose of trade or to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright, or
  2. makes for sale or hire, or sells or lets for hire, or by way of trade displays or offers for sale or hire, or
  3. by way of trade exhibits in public, or
  4. Imports into India, into India,” any infringing copies of the work: [Provided that nothing in sub-clause (iv) shall apply to the import of one copy of any work, for the private and domestic use of the importer.]

For the purposes of this section, the reproduction of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work in the form of a cinematograph film shall be deemed to be an “infringing copy”.