Mumbai: A corporate lawyer who started his career in the entertainment industry, Rajiv Dalal has been named managing director of the Motion Pictures Association’s (MPA) newly opened office in India, with a mandate to spearhead the American film industry’s anti-piracy efforts in the country, liaise with the government and represent Hollywood studio interests.
Protecting rights: MPA’s Rajiv Dalal says piracy is a huge threat to intellectual property rights and the problem is with enforcement.
Dalal, who assumed the role on 25 February, is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, as well as the Georgetown University Law Centre. He started his career in the music industry, working for a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, before working in government and then as a capital markets lawyer. He joined MPA in 2007, where he directed strategic initiatives from its Los Angeles office.
In an interview, Dalal and Mike Ellis, MPA’s senior vice-president and regional director of the Asia-Pacific region, spoke about the scope and objectives of the organization, which represents the global interests of the US film industry, and why this is the right time for it to set up an office in India. Edited excerpts:
Why is the timing right for an MPA launch in India?
Dalal: We have been looking at opening for the past couple of years but it made sense now because of the level of Hollywood investment in terms of co-productions and ventures. Given the large growth in investment in India in recent years and the emergence of the vertically integrated studios, we decided it was finally the right time to open in India.
Ellis: We have been involved in fighting for and protecting our products in India for the past 10 years but not with our own programme on the ground. Even in these tough economic times, all our studios are looking at the business opportunities in India. And if you look at the result of the film Oscars, it leaves India sitting in a hot place.
What is the scope and role of the organization in India?
Dalal: We aim to protect and increase our studios’ investments in India and focus on three areas—legislative, legal and intellectual property rights. In terms of legislative objectives, we aim to decrease market access restrictions and entertainment taxes. On the legal side, we want to help build a strong intellectual property-friendly industry.
Ellis: We want to increase market access and reduce entertainment taxes while supporting a stronger intellectual property-friendly judiciary. We hope that the collective deterrents will have an impact so people don’t steal our products. And we will then enforce our studios’ intellectual property rights and ramp up anti-piracy enforcement while investing in some educational outreach. We want to connect with the younger generation to try and impart knowledge about the value of intellectual property rights which obviously is going to be a driver of economies around the world.
What is your strategy to achieve your objectives?
Dalal: Anti-piracy enforcement and intellectual property enforcement are big ones for MPA. For anti-piracy, there are a number of ways to go about enforcing our studios’ rights. The first is investigative, the second is content protection policing and the third way is through educational outreach. We are planning a multi-pronged approach and not just to counter hard goods piracy, but also Internet piracy.
Ellis: We are looking at how we can work closely with the Indian film industry, which is obviously the dominant player in the market place. The key is to do it together and not in a sort of shotgun approach where we all go off firing in different directions, but more as a strategic sniper operation attack. We would look for a coalition to be formed, headed by the Indian film industry, for which we would want partners on, but share our knowledge and expertise from around the world.
What are your forecasts for the industry in India this year and how do you envisage the shape of future Hollywood-Bollywood collaborations?
Dalal: The past 18 months have seen a number of deals struck and the studios will continue to roll out ventures. Certainly, there will be more agreements that will take place, but those are for the individual studios to announce.
Ellis: India is an exciting opportunity and I think it is a wise and natural choice that the studios need to invest in markets where there is a lot of upside. I think Slumdog Millionaire is a great example of the collaborations for a great product. I hope that the products being made will continue to have a continued global appeal, because we have found in America that it is the global appeal that drives our product.
What are the biggest obstacles to MPA operating effectively in India?
Dalal: Entertainment taxes and market restrictions. Entertainment tax eats into a lot of revenue. Piracy is also a huge threat to intellectual property rights and the problem is with enforcement. There is no real censure or judicial ramifications.
What is the role of the government in achieving MPA’s objectives?
Ellis: The fabulous thing about India is that the government has stayed out of trying to do business in the entertainment industry and the Indian entertainment industry had thrived over the years. But what we do need the government to do is to look at some of these taxation issues that are clearly an impediment to doing business. And then at the top level, we need a strong commitment from the Indian government to fight piracy and to respect intellectual property rights. In that respect, the government needs to look at the value of legislation. So there certainly is a role for government to play, but not in the day-to-day business of how the industry makes movies.