Intellectual Property and Piracy

I have been both attending and speaking on conferences on the future of Media and Technology. I use the two terms together as more and more Technlogy and Entertainment/Media are converging to become the same bussiness. One thing that consistantly comes up is the question of Intellectual property and Piracy. I think the lawyers/Corporations have got it completely wrong…

Intellectual Property (IP) is not and cannot be either constant or extreme. If it were, then in the modern world there would be no chance of sharing of ideas, of scientific discovery, even of propogation of faith. Imagine if the Bible, the Koran or The Mahabharatha were protected by IP ? Imagine if the teachings of Buddha were protected by an IP just because one of his disciples actually wrote them down as he spoke.
Imagine if Einstein’s equations were patented or protected from use wthout financial considerations. Where would scientific discovery be ? One of the problems with scientific discovery these days, especially in the field of medicine, such as a cure for Aids, is that groups or individuals are terrified by the idea of sharing discoveries in case they cannot protect their financial interests.
I am not denying that people must be rewarded for their effort, and not inconsiderable expense. But when the whole scientific and medical communities are motivated by one just goal, the creation of products that are so well protected that they can extract huge profit for a huge amount of time, it all becomes a bit ghoulish.
But let me get back to my own field. Media and Entertainment. We are more and more moving int a digital and an instantaneous world. Where the commercial life of a product may be huge but for shorter and shorter periods of time. For example a Video on youtube when it works ut its revenue models. A popular video in the future may get a billion downloads in a couple of days and make a billion dollars.
In that scenario, how long would the video maker ask for protection of intellectual property ? One week maybe ? And then allow the video to be downloaded free, so that he/she gets a huge following for the next video. I know this is an extreme example, but then it is good to look at extreme examples to understand the nature of the problem.
Corporations scream about Piracy. The big music corporations went ballistic and got Napster shut down. Only to realize that Napster showed them the way to revive their flagging music sales through single song downloads. Napster was the origins of the Ipod and Itunes.
Microsoft complain about Piracy in India and China and calculate the loss of revenue in billions fo dollars. Knowing full well that none of the people who bought pirated copies of the software would have ever been able to afford buy the software at it’s official retail price. But in using their (even pirated) software, they are becoming users of hardware and software, and are entering the consumer market. Surely that must be good for growth of Microsoft.
At a meeting at the World Economic Forum, one gentleman was complaining that he was being ripped of in India. he had paid huge sums of money for the rights to the brand of Tommy Hillifiger in India, and now people were just making T shirts and printing the Tommy Hillifiger logo and selling them on the street side at a fraction of his cost. He wanted them arrested and put into jail for Piracy.
Hey ! Ever consider what extra intrinsic value you are providing the consumer by printing a brand name on the T shirt ? Till u do that, there will always be piracy. For the pirate is probaby a small trader looking for an oppertunity to make some money to look after his family.

19 thoughts on “Intellectual Property and Piracy

  1. In a country like India & china where average income isnt imaginable by europian citizens. Brands like Tommy Hillifiger or microsoft r very finished products but here in India ppl dont care abt brand but more care abt affordability. Thats why low cost brand like bajaj,nirma got success. Piracy can only b stopped by giving affordable brand otherwise as said earlier its
    enlightened by others & opportunity 4 traders.

  2. Imagine an artist who has created something very beautiful and whose main concern is to make his message reach as many people as possible. Would such a person look at piracy differently… Piracy in ways gives an audience which would have otherwise ignored the creation in totality. Piracy is not necessarily a bad thing for such a person.

  3. Enlightened Opportunism!…YO!…
    ‘Morals?…no…no…no…can’t afford it! too poor for that’- Alfred P. Doolittle( Eliza’s Father from My Fair lady)
    When ever i CRACK something i think of Mr. Doolittle and press ENTER!!! 🙂

  4. Your example with YouTube is, as you admit, extreme and just not aaplicable for many people who already make there living out of creative works protected by copyright. Not everyone will get a big hit and billions of downloads. In these debates on copyright everyone focuses on the stars and forgets that there are millions of average Joes making there money from low sales over time – long tail style.
    I am not convinced that the majors have revived their flagging fortunes with single song downloads! Recorded music sale are still at zero or negative growth.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. Mind you, as the free-download Machinima movie guy, that’s probably not a surprise.
    It’s interesting to note that when the Statute of Anne, the original copyright document, was written, the term of copyright was set to 14 years – a reasonable time for the writer to recoup his time investment, but nothing like the “copyright for life and beyond” laws that exist in the US, for example, today.
    Given the speed at which information and art move today, compared to the 1800’s, logic would suggest that copyright terms should have become shorter, not longer. Instead, of course, the reverse has happened.
    Fortunately movements like Creative Commons ( are pushing back with opt-in copyright alternatives giving viewers more rights and freedoms, but there’s still a long way to go.
    And artists are starting to realise that releasing their work under less-restrictive or even free-to-download models is a great way of advertising and building their reputation. In the long run, I think that’s going to be a more powerful force for the re-imagining of copyright than all the efforts of all the lobbyists in the world.
    (BTW, another creative industry not protected by copyright – cooking and restaurants. Which aren’t exactly short on innovation either!)

  6. The thing to do is to “get it out there”, in whatever form possible – print is a good way, but the Internet is even better – the very fact that it’s free means that you don’t have to pursue a conduit which previously came at a price…
    As far as software is concerned, there’s a karmic law at work here – who would agree that “Windows” Mark 1 was an inferior product to XP ? – most people – so we labour on in our ignorance and pay through the nose for a product which is a work in progress…anyone with any sense is not going to pay for an inferior product and yet this is how software developers work…
    Most of the “improvements” in software come via beta testers – and what better than people who have non-legal copies to play with ? – otherwise the speed of development would be a lot less than it currently is…

  7. Dearest Shekhar
    You are simply beautiful.. I just wanted to whisper these words to you to say your work and your mind is beautiful.
    wishing you all you desire in life ahead.

  8. there is another side of IPR, not addressed in these discussions so far. it is protection of indigenous knowledge systems. what happens when modern medicine uses turmeric from indian and chinese medicine systems and issues patents for the use of turmeric in healing? what does it mean for scores of native practitioners to be in IPR violation of something that forms so integral a part of their lives that it does not warrant any special attention?

  9. Dear Shekhar
    we would like to invite you for the launch of a new character which will be a true indian super hero. we r trying to get ur no but not yet
    if you could visit to delhi for this launch or in case we can come over to mumbai to do alaunch especially for you shall be gr8
    waiting for your positive reply
    vivek sood

  10. I am a student of Whistling Woods Mumbai in the field of Business of Films and television.
    Your middle path on piracy is well understood by me. I totally support a change in copyrights act all over the world in monetary terms. My suggestion to carry ahead your idea and vision will be that, when you recognise an IPR you the Vendor must specify after how many number of copies sold/downloaded you recover your proposed profits and multiple profits and just after that, this particular content must go in the public domain. I hope this will look reasonable in time to come. It will mean instead of years of limitation the proposed quantity of the content sold should be the limit for public domain.
    Vinod Agarwal
    I am currently submitting a Business plan for a feature film a remake of Academy Award winner in 200l. I have proposed you as a Director in the Plan. I wish if you would be interested to know more.

  11. Excellent thoughts folks. I am a techie guy so I am thinking of usage of various Technology options to counter piracy.
    I love Google for what they are doing to the world. They have a solution to handle piracy. They give everything free to people like us – the users. They charge the ads guys. This is for any service they offer. No question of piracy there.
    Same model for content… The content can be music, video clip, pics… whatever. Let the content be free for all. And let there be “space” for ads in the content to make money.
    Secondly, develop computers or digital devices which can handle “Intelligent” Content. An “Intelligent” Content destroys itself after its life is done.
    Just my few “paise”

  12. Delighted to read your opinion on IP and piracy, and really a relief after the rather knee jerk and ballistic responses that one is used to from the film industry; Do check out Jane Gaine’s Contested Culture for a fascinating history of IP, piracy and its intimate link to the history of cinema

  13. Glad to hear a voice of dissent from the film industry ppl…i fully agree. Infact, Mahesh Yogi’s move to trademark ‘transcendental meditation’ was like Buddha’s copyrighted gospels…one would prefer gossips then…PVR culture only allows the top elite o watch movies in theaters, they don’t even feel ashmed in accusing those who watch it in Rs. 10? No, throw them in jail, after all criminal law has always protected the ruling classes!

  14. Hi,
    I am a student of IIT Kharagpur. The arguments against Ip which in a way lay the foundation for your logic are flawed and are more emotional than rational. These arguments are not expected from Shekhar Kapur, they are deserving of a Shilpa Shetty or a mallika Sherawat (read bimbettes).Kindly get your facts right on IP before you proceed to pass filmy comments. Whoever said that equations and scientific principles are patentable? you are entitled to your opinions, but you do have a responsibility to do the necessary homework before your disseminate your views on such a public forum, however informal it may be.

  15. i love you Shekhar…I am currently submitting a Business plan for a feature film a remake of Academy Award winner in 200l.what does it mean for scores of native practitioners to be in IPR violation of something that forms so integral a part of their lives that it does not warrant any special attention?Microsoft complain about Piracy in India and China and calculate the loss of revenue in billions fo dollars.

  16. This problem is a formal legal problem. The law’s of copyright have to be brought into proper relation with other laws, protecting human life, human rights, etc.

    It appears that present copyright laws, but more importantly practices, are now out of line with the original context and disproportionately affect other areas of law.

    Law protects two things: 1. society and/or the state in whatever form. 2. the individual.

    This is because the individual cannot exist without the group and visa versa.

    Copyright Privilege:
    Copyright law is there to protect a minority of gifted creative thinkers, to nurture their basic survival and creativity, so that they may benefit society. In fact, the copyright laws and more importantly the patent laws…are not very defensible. They are limited rights granted for a limited reason.

    Where things go wrong is when corporations are given the rights which should only be conceded to individual inventors…and when the term of these rights is excessively long.

    These two features actually prevent future creativity and invention, acheiving the exact opposite result that was intended. Also, because patents and copyrights can be sold, it is not infrequent for companies to cheat the original inventor out of rights.

    Beyond this, the excessive remuneration and rent seeking for copyrights and patents leads to all sorts of competitive swindling and violence between business partners who work with creative intellectuals.

    1. Put a cap on remuneration for copyrights, such that the inventor can not prevent the innovation from being used by the underprivileged. Why? Because, this use of copyright privilege is an abuse of the basic rights of others, and thus a law which is invalid.

    2. Prevent the transfer of copyrights and patents to corporations. They sould be obliged to hire creatives and support them in their work, but should not be able to exploit the creative’s work to exploit others, or to extort profits, where actual creative work is limited or no longer being done…
    Here business tries to exploit and thus destroys and/or blocks creative activity.

    Copyrights and patents are social privileges granted to highly creative people, for limited use, limited gain and limited time. It is wrong to extend such protection to activities that are not truly inventive or creative and to allow non-creatives to use these privileges in an unlimited way.

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