The story of piracy is the story of a discourse that manages to remain hidden from the overarching gaze of the Government. Irrespective of strong or weak enforcement systems prevalent all over the world to stop piracy, this underground discourse has survived and replicated. The traditional scholarship on piracy presents a clear-cut binary. Piracy is argued as the discourse of angst underlining the poverty-ridden conditions of the citizens while copyright or anti-piracy law is often interpreted as a draconian measure to subjugate the low-income strata of the country. Debunking this traditional notion Piracy in the Indian Film Industry: Copyright and Cultural Consonance by Arul George Scaria presents how the welfare of the country is related to anti-piracy laws.
Scaria, who received his doctoral degree from the Faculty of Law at the Ludwig Maximilians Universität, Munich, has transformed his thesis into this book. In a space of six chapters that span 324 pages, Scaria offers us an epic example of interdisciplinary scholarship in economics and law.
In the Introduction, the writer divulges the four reasons for choosing the Indian film industry rather than any other industry in the world: Dearth of piracy scholarship on the Indian film industry; India is generally considered a developing economy with a weak Intellectual Property (IP) enforcement system; the writer claims that knowledge capital generated through anti-piracy laws will promote the welfare of the people from all strata of society; awareness and implementation of better IP protection in India can facilitate a flurry of foreign investments in India.
The book, claims to have an innovative and unique approach to understand the nature of piracy that ails the Indian film industry. By engaging in participatory research with different intellectual communities to understand the divergent perspectives surrounding piracy in India Scaria not only identifies the flaws in the current paradigm but also presents the solution by suggesting ‘the need for a paradigm shift for higher copyright compliance levels, based on the perspectives of the local people and the various social, cultural, legal and economic dimensions of the people’ (p. 20).
Two chapters provide an overview of the historical and cultural evolution of copyright law in India and analyse the approach of the judiciary in India towards copyright related issues. Then follows a wide array of surveys and insights about the perspectives of consumers in India regarding copyright piracy. Offers optimal legal and policy options on the basis of the findings of the surveys are presents. The final chapter summarizes the major conclusions of this book.
The book offers a re-engagement with people who are the victims as well as the victimizers. Above all, it clarifies why piracy cannot be understood without reference to the local people and their perspectives. Scaria’s agency based approach to understand the evils of piracy is both innovative and scientific.
While there have been many studies of piracy, the thing which clearly distinguishes Scaria’s book from the past works is its methodology and style of narration. The book uses the mixed methods approach in research, which generally refers to research that involves collecting, analysing and interpreting quantitative as well as qualitative data. This data is collected through surveys. By participating in surveys with people from all walks of life, Scaria enriches our understanding of piracy in India.
Scaria knows how to weave an interesting narrative with his anecdotal style. One of the best examples of this anecdotal mode of the narrative is seen in the conclusion of the book where Scaria narrates an incident connected to the suspension of a judge of the Supreme Court of Texas. We are told how the ‘judge in question is facing inquiry over allegations of cruelly beating his then 16-year-old daughter with a belt 17 times, for illegally downloading music and games from the internet’ (p. 209).
This study answers three questions that have remained elusive: —first, how do common people perceive piracy? Secondly, what does copyright piracy mean in the Indian context? Finally, what are the legal and policy options are possible to solve the problem of piracy?. The book shows that in the context of India, the real solution for piracy may not be criminalization of more activities or increase in severity of punishments, but an approach where legislative efforts are complemented with industry actions. Furthermore, by presenting anti-piracy laws as a champion of the poor strata of the society, the book forces the neo-Frankfurt School critics to rethink their positions about piracy as a saviour of the subaltern voice or the destructor of their voices.
Prateek is a PhD Candidate in the Drama Studies Department, University of Queensland.