Home / Industry / Media /  Channels take a $3-bn hit from piracy of popular daily soaps and live sports

New Delhi: Television broadcasters in India are looking at losses of almost $3 billion from cable piracy, according to professional services network Deloitte, that has not been recognised as a separate offence by the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act. Popular daily soaps and live sports are regularly hit with pirates being able to crack codes of DTH boxes and retransmit them through rogue websites and content aggregator apps. Further, these players make money through advertising by gaming and betting companies that may have been banned otherwise. On the other hand, broadcasters that file three to four complaints every month are at the mercy of authorised police personnel who have far too much on their plate.

“We are increasingly dealing with Kodi boxes, which are WiFi-enabled streaming devices, often made in China, that are used to capture and stream content from leading broadcasters illegally. Then, there are apps that aren’t ordinarily found on Apple or Google Play Store but look similar to those owned by leading broadcasters that aggregate such content," a senior executive at a broadcast network said. A lot of these cases are reported to individual state governments where the incident takes place but these are unfortunately working in silos with no policies for the overall broadcast industry, the person said.

In December, Viacom18 had secured a John Doe injunction order against various pirate websites for the IPL 2023. A John Doe order is a pre-infringement injunction remedy provided to protect the intellectual property rights of the creator of artistic works.

Tanu Banerjee, partner at legal firm Khaitan & Co, also pointed out a loophole under the Cable TV Act that a court can only take cognizance of any offence punishable under the Act if a complaint is made by an authorised officer. “This issue is exacerbated when authorities are unable to act in a timebound manner, which is of utmost importance in instances of piracy," Banerjee said.

Further, Kodi set top boxes are available in the market or online for a small price and can play popular pay channels with an Internet connection. There is no regulation that stops the sale of these STBs. Piracy becomes an even graver issue in case of big-ticket properties like the IPL slated to begin soon.

Ranjana Adhikari, partner, technology, media and communications at legal firm IndusLaw, said after the new tariff order (NTO), there have been reports of a surge in piracy of broadcasting signals and newer innovative methods of piracy are being employed like usage of illicit streaming devices. “The duplication of channel numbers and/or of unique identification numbers of set top boxes are other such methods employed to pirate the signals. These in turn mask the real subscriber base of the cable operators resulting in a significant loss in revenue for broadcasters," Adhikari said.

To be sure, experts point out the legal framework to address piracy needs to be strengthened in India as the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 does not recognize piracy as a separate offence. Only penalties for any unauthorized operations have been prescribed.

“The usual step is that, broadcasters will file a criminal complaint in the local police station when any piracy is traced. The complaint can result in arrest and confiscation of any equipment used for piracy, if found. The onus completely lies with the technical capabilities of piracy cell and ground level monitoring staff of the broadcasters. One mode of piracy that has also been common is the streaming of TV channels on OTT apps illegally. Such complaints are handled by the Cyber Digital Crime Units of the states. However again the onus of identifying the piracy is on the broadcaster and OTT platform," said Chandrashekhar Mantha, partner, Deloitte India.

Results of cable piracy are multifold. It includes loss of revenue to content providers and broadcasters, increased dependency on other sources of revenue such as advertising, lesser diversity of content for consumers stemming from deprivation of revenue to broadcasters and overall loss to various players in the industry due to increased operating cost in curbing piracy, Pranav Srivastava, partner, Phoenix Legal pointed out.

“The major setback to the I&B ministry is the inability to identify the infringer because of the omnipresent nature of electronic media, massively increasing the possibilities for piracy," Ketan Mukhija, partner, Link Legal said. “The MIB, in order to create a robust mechanism, should aim to work along with law enforcement agencies to monitor and enforce the provisions of laws in force. It is pertinent to mention that currently, the penalties imposed and technologies used are not sufficient to deter individuals from engaging in TV cable piracy."

Lata Jha
Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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