The anti-piracy wing of the TFPC has been zeroing in on the masterminds who rob the industry of its rightful earning

When Shiva Kumar and his team took over the anti-piracy cell at the Tamil Film Producers Council on May 5, 2017, their task was cut out for them. They had to root out piracy. For long, the industry has been trying to shut down websites that illegally stream movies, but they kept changing domain names and hid behind impenetrable firewalls. The websites’coffers were overflowing with money from marketing campaigns and they earned the loyalty of a generation that considered them heroes.

“And so, I drew a ‘sketch’,” laughs Shiva Kumar, using the colloquial term for a plan, made famous in Tamil movies. “Instead of directly locking horns with the teams behind this, we decided to hit them where it hurt — their funding source,” says Kumar. The money came in from campaigns run by companies such as Propeller Ads, Zap Ads and Pop Ads. “We had to convince them that the money was going to sites that indulged in illegal streaming.”

Next, the team pooled resources. Four enterprises are mainly involved in anti-piracy initiatives in the South — Copyright Media, Block X, IT Digital Solutions and Royal Spiders. It tied up with them from September 2017 to jointly tackle piracy — Thupparivaalan was the first film they worked on.

Going live

Simultaneously, a core team set out to remove illegal links of Tamil movies from Facebook and YouTube. In just three months, it deleted four lakh movies. Later, it shut down nearly 260 YouTube channels with illegal content. “People rarely know how deep the rot penetrates, and how much intelligence is subverted to fuel this darkness,” says Kumar.

Soon, Facebook and Instagram gave them the Rights Manager tool and YouTube to give them the Content Verification tool. These allowed them to isolate a pirated print and prevent it from being shared. Slowly, pay per view websites and others hosting links handed over tools to tackle piracy.

During the first day of Kaala in Singapore, Praveen Thevar was arrested for live-screening the movie from a theatre. “Do you know how much they get paid? Just 300 dollars. With that, they ruin business worth crores,” says Kumar.

The team has had to do strange things to go one-up on the offenders. Kumar, who has worked on anti-piracy for nearly 100 Hollywood and Bollywood movies, once sat in a friend’s theatre, moving from row to row to find out which seats were most conducive for recording movies on the sly. The answer? Seats 1-5 in the first four rows, on the left side.

Then came the task of blocking domain names. “For instance, Tamil Rockers had the same domain name from 2013. But, in the last eight months, they have had to change 34 names!”

Getting support

The team joined hands with every other institution working to control piracy. “We work closely with Lohita Sujith of Motion Picture Association of America, the world governing body for piracy.”

The State Government has put in place The Intellectual Property Right Enforcement Cell (IPREC) headed by a Superintendent of Police. The route from here goes thus: Once the complaint reaches it, an FIR is filed and produced in court. This is sent to the Computer Emergency Response Team, which hands it over to TRAI for blocking the site in question.

Qube also helps the team in a big way; it analyses the links and watermark and determines where the leak took place. This is what recently helped seal a theatre in Mayiladuthurai where Oru Kuppai Kadhai was being recorded.

International affair

Going after the servers needed more manpower. “The servers are in Sweden or The Netherlands, and they expect us to go there and file a case,” he adds.

“The problem is that everyone sees it as an industry’s or a person’s problem, not a public problem,” rues SR Prabhu, treasurer, TPFC. “We keep cleaning the space every day, and someone keeps dumping litter. We have to patiently clean it, till those who litter get tired,” he says.

Till then, he calculates that a producer stands to lose two thirds of his income. “If the Government takes a stand, it can shut down these websites in a day, the way it went after pornographic sites,” he adds.

Encouraging people to stay off pirated movies is a way to go about it too. In the early years of the new millennium, the Motion Picture Association of America brought out a series of advertisements telling people that piracy was no less than real-life stealing. Actors can go all out to impress upon people the need to watch a movie legally. “It helps now that most new releases release in the online space on legal platforms, soon after the theatrical run,” says Prabhu.

The team, which has so far removed nearly 13,000 links of Kaala from the Net and 120 Facebook accounts and 40 Facebook groups (to be a volunteer, mail screening the movie, says the culprits are in sight. “They are panicking. We are waiting for them to make a mistake that will lead us to them.”

Sadly, even if caught, the punitive measures are not strict. “These are still considered soft crimes,” says Prabhu. Soft crimes that deal a body blow to an industry that has stood the test of time.