New Delhi: Lawyers specializing in intellectual property rights (IPR) are finding more clients as businesses step up the fight against piracy in an attempt to plug losses running into thousands of crores of rupees every year.
Movie production houses, publishers, software firms, pharmaceutical companies and consumer goods manufacturers, among others, have stepped up hiring IPR lawyers to gather evidence against makers and sellers of pirated and counterfeit products, move the courts and coordinate raids with the police.
Lawyers from the IPR law firm Anand and Anand, for instance, recently accompanied the police on a raid at Gaffar Market in central Delhi to seize fake eyewear bearing the Rayban logo.
Some film producers in Mumbai have hired A.A. Khan and Associates, run by a former police officer who headed the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, to bypass the courts and take the police directly to piracy dens.
The Indian film industry lost $959 million (around Rs4,373 crore) and 571,000 jobs in 2008 alone to piracy, according to a study by the US-India Business Council and audit and consulting firm Ernst and Young, released earlier this month. Another study by KPMG shows pirated discs account for 60% of the DVD market in India.
To be sure, neither the fight against piracy nor the hiring of IP lawyers is a recent phenomenon. The trend, fueled by changes in IP laws that were in step with World Trade Organization (WTO) accords, is now gaining momentum.
IPR law firms collect evidence of the counterfeit manufacture of their clients’ products and approach the court against it. If the court is convinced, it appoints a “local commissioner”—typically an independent lawyer—to carry out raids with the police and the IPR companies’ representatives and seize the fake goods.
“While courts are always hesitant and cautious in granting applications to conduct raids, there has been an increase in such raids over the years, proportionate to the increase in piracy of copyright material,” said Anuradha Salhotra, partner at IPR law firm Lall, Lahiri and Salhotra.
“Keeping in mind the financial loss that is sustained by copyright holders and the risks associated with counterfeit goods, particularly pharmaceutical and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), these raids are regarded as being instrumental in controlling the menace,” she said.
Her company is helping firms such as the Indian unit of US-based beverage firm Coca-Cola Co., home appliance maker Whirlpool of India Ltd and personal care and household products firm Marico Ltd gather evidence against piracy and coordinate enforcement raids.
Business Software Alliance, a non-profit trade association created to protect the interests of the software industry, has hired IPR law firms such as Anand and Anand and Saikrishna and Associates to control piracy. Its director, Lizum Mishra, said 68% of software used in personal computers in India is pirated.
A.A. Khan and Associates seized nearly 5,800 pirated CDs and DVDs worth around Rs6 lakh in a raid with the police on 14 March in Mumbai. These included discs of recent Hindi movie releases Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? and Teen Patti, My Name is Khan, Toh Baat Pakki! and some English titles as well.
But these raids are not always easy to carry out. Advocates from an IPR law firm who went to raid a suspected manufacturer of counterfeit locks in Aligarh realized only too late that the suspect was a legislator. They had to pass through a hostile crowd of his supporters to conduct the raid.
Courts are also not willing to approve raids without sufficient evidence as they can easily encroach upon a person’s fundamental right to carry on his business, said Salhotra.
In a 2009 software piracy case, the Delhi high court severely criticized investigators hired by law firms to collect evidence against piracy. One of the investigators accepted in court that he worked for a call centre and had no knowledge of piracy laws.