Belling piracyWhen you can’t beat them, join them and then beat them in their own game.

Piracy is a pain for the producers and pleasure for millions of others. Millions are spent in making a film and people watch it for free or for a price that doesn’t get paid back to the filmmakers.

And the Internet is making things more complex, it just takes a few hours for millions across the world to download a film and watch it at their leisure or – if their bandwidth permits – watch it online, usually at no explicit cost.

From a film viewer point of view, piracy is a boon. He doesn’t need to shell out hundreds every week to watch films that, in most cases, aren’t even worth the celluloid they are shot on. So he either rents it from the neighbourhood DVDwallah or buys it from a Palika Bazar or better still, downloads it from the Internet for free. And the best part is that he can watch the film at leisure, even pausing to answer that phone call and fast forwarding those mandatory boring songs or replaying that particular hot scene/song over and over again (much like what many small town theatres did for the Chaiya Chaiya song in Dil Se).

An average movie fan is the selfish kind. The anti-piracy preachings have no impact on him. We are like this only.

While producers and distributors scratch their heads thinking of deterrants and ensuring returns, let me put forward some uninvited advice.

In the good ol’ video cassette days, films would release on VHS on the same friday of their release. Then came Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and started the trend of delayed home video release. Hum Aapke Hain Kaun was the first film I saw a camera print (or cam rip as it is now known in the circle) of. Our local cablewallah had aired the film a few days after its release.

This was precisely what gave a boost to the bootleg business. When you deny a legit way of accessing stuff, there, as a rule, get carved out numerous illegit paths. My suggestion is that DVD releases should not be delayed beyond two weeks from a theatre release. Because right from the first week the pirated DVDs get rented out (and also copied). A single DVD can keep away hundreds of viewers away from the theatres. So why not release the DVD early and make some money before the pirates do?

Anyway, nowadays the most of a film theatre earnings comes from the first two weeks, an early DVD release would only mean extra earnings, as the interest in the film would still be on the higher side. With time, for most films, the interest tends to fade away and that refelects in the DVD sales figures.

And I suggest that Bollywood films be officially released online simultaneously with the theatrical release. They anyway make it to the P2P and video sharing circuit within a few days and in some cases even before that.

With the likes of YouTube expressing interest to offer online movie rentals, things will just get smoother.

Amongst Indian websites, there are the likes of and who are already in the game (though the films they currently show are old). NDTV Convergence’s could also be a potential platform.

There would obviously be costs involved for both the content provider and the consumer. Bandwidth and storage costs money and producers would obviously like to make the best out of such a deal. Such online streaming could be ad supported (no ads coming at a premium). Big corporates would be interested in sponsoring such activities, given the number of eyeballs they can potentially attract.

And there also can be an access cost for the consumer. Not something like the DVD prices of the past (until Moserbaer came along with its smart business sense), but a price that I’ll be willing to pay to save me from the bother of driving all the way to the theatre to watch an average film. Something in the range of Rs 10 to Rs 50, depending on the movie. Anything higher would be an invitation to fire-up the P2P software.

Online streaming technology has got better and more secure for the content providers (though I’m no great supporter of DRM). Protocols like RTMPE are tougher to leech (and Adobe tried to limit the distribution of rtmpdump).

But in India, given the abysmal Internet speed, online viewing might not be the best option. The NRIs would be game, though. For India, the video of the film could be built into a software (multi-platform) that can be downloaded for a prefixed price, depending on the demand and freshness of the film and the quality of the video.

The software should be a portable version that doesn’t require installation and would have the player and all the necessary codecs built-in. Moreover, it could self-destruct after a pre-specified time interval – 24 hours upwards – (again depending on the price paid to download it) to prevent further circulation. This can again be ad supported for extra revenue.

The video (within the application) should also be available in different qualities, to let consumers choose the file size according to their needs and download speed. There is no point giving anyone on a GPRS or EDGE connection a 1GB file. By the time it finishes downloading, it’ll be timeout.

If the prices are kept attractive enough, it’s a money minter. When consumers know that for a small price they can get the real stuff and not any cam-rip or PDVD-rip, many will be interested. I am.

After all many buy a pirated DVD for Rs 20-Rs 50 or rent it for Rs 10-Rs 20. It’s not that people are not willing to spend money. The right price usually manages to find many buyers.

Though this deal is primarily targeted towards people who watch their movies on their computers and the film is not for keeps. Those who want the DVD could wait only just a little longer.

Even cyber cafes can be made partners in the business, as distributors for people with slow or no internet connection.

All this makes sense (to me). But the question is, who will bell the cat?