Bollywood hiring cyber hitmen to combat piracy

Sunday, 5 September 2010 - 12:33am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Increasing number of filmmakers and producers are flirting with legal boundaries to take down pirate websites.

Wary of the efforts being made by anti-piracy agencies, Bollywood has decided to take matters into its own hands by employing tech firms to take down websites offering illegal movie downloads — hook or by crook.

Armed with the latest software and gadgetry, this wily gang of cyber hitmen is being contracted by filmmakers and production houses to identify errant websites, issue take down notices to them, and if there is no reply, launch an all-out attack.

The most recent film to deploy its own anti-piracy efforts was Peepli Live. Released on August 13, its pirated copy was available for download on at around 5.30pm. A team of experts from a Bangalore based software firm detected it soon after, and issued a take down notice.

Though the website complied, within 24 hours of the release, around 300 such links sprang up. Round-the-clock cyber patrolling by the twenty-five member team led to eradication of 247 of them, including others which led to streaming video sites like YouTube. It emerged that three main servers had been used to generate these links, and were taken down.

According to cyber experts, most of the websites offering torrent links belong to young entrepreneurs from countries like Pakistan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Canada, Germany and the US, who this an easy way to exponentially increase page hits, and thereby advertising revenue, of their sites.

Girish Kumar, managing director, Aiplex Software, which managed the Peepli Live account, said, “When we detect a website offering a link or a download, we contact the server hosts and intimate them about the illegal activity. They issue a notice to the site owner. If the site owner does not comply, the site is either suspended or dismissed.”

He added, “The problem is with torrent sites, which usually do not oblige. In such cases, we flood the website with lakhs of requests, which results in database error, causing denial of service as each server has a fixed bandwidth capacity. At times, we have to go an extra mile and attack the site and destroy the data to stop the movie from circulating further.” Charges per movie range between Rs2 lakh and Rs4 lakh for a four-week period.

Though such hardy measures have become a norm, with Aiplex alone ‘securing’ over thirty releases, including big-ticket ones like My Name is Khan, Ishqiya and Housefull, not all condone them. Technology evangelist Vijay Mukhi said, “Though there is no global law to keep a check on these activities, one can always alert the authorities of the respective country. This idea or technique is e-vigilantism and not an ideal solution as there are thousands of such torrent sites which cannot be detected.”

Another software agency, Anti Piracy LLC, has been hired by Bollywood giants UTV, whose senior vice president Prakash Nathan said, “Internet piracy is a big issue today as reach as well as bandwidth is increasing fast. Many a times, pre-DVD prints are made using these downloads and sold in the market. We hire these services to reduce losses and minimise piracy to extent it is possible.”

Producers of even low-budget films have started opting for such services, since it is a better way to protect their already slim margins. An example is Tere Bin Laden, which featured Pakistani superstar Ali Zafar. The subsequent banning of the film in Pakistan led to a large number of websites providing free download of the film. Alarmed that this would affect the sales of the film in other countries, producer Walkwater Films had little option but to hire a private anti-piracy firm to protect its copyright.

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