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Indian Film Industry, Bollywood, Steps Up Fight Against Piracy

The Indian Hindi language movie industry - popularly known as Bollywood - is stepping up its fight against film piracy both at home and overseas. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, Bollywood films lose billions of dollars because of infringement of copyright laws.

In a busy market in Central Delhi, pirated CDs and DVDs of popular Hindi movies produced by the Mumbai-based Bollywood film industry are freely available.

Ask a shop owner for DVDs of the latest Hindi movie hits and he produces them from under the counter. A quick bargain drives down the price from two dollars to just a dollar and a half.

Infringement of copyright laws is rampant in India, where Bollywood's colorful stories, peppered with song and dance, are a rage.

A recent study estimates that India's entertainment industry loses $4 billion, and 800,000 jobs, each year, because of piracy.

These losses are not unique to India. Piracy is also a growing problem in Western countries, like the United States and Britain, which are home to large Indian populations. For these people, Bollywood films provide an important cultural link with their homeland.

Film Federation of India Secretary Supran Sen says tens of thousands of people in these countries buy illegal DVDs of Hindi films. He says these are easily available in small retail stores, usually owned by Indians.

"There are certain pockets where we have a sizable population of Indians, but then there are no theatrical releases there," Sen explained. "I do not know what is the reason. Those Indians would definitely like to see the films. So, in that scenario, they are bound to take certain films, certain cassettes which may not be legally released there."

The Western markets have become so big that Bollywood film producers are basing some of their biggest blockbusters on Indians living overseas.

In Mumbai, Komal Nahata is publisher of a Bollywood trade magazine called "Film Information." He says Hindi movies casting top stars earn big money in countries such as the United States and Great Britain.

"In some cases, the overseas market is almost as huge as the Indian market," Nahata noted. "Which means theatrical revenues - 50 percent of the revenues come from India and 50 percent sometimes from the overseas circuit, alone."

The huge scale of the problem has prompted Bollywood to step up the fight against piracy both at home and overseas.

On a recent visit to Washington, Indian filmmakers urged American enforcement agencies to help plug the losses suffered by them.

An advocacy group, the U.S.-India Business Council, and American film companies are collaborating with Bollywood to combat piracy by raising awareness of the problem with American authorities.

And, as Hollywood promises to help Bollywood's efforts to curb piracy in the United States, Bollywood says it will do the same for American movies in India, which also lose revenue because of piracy.

In India, Bollywood is urging authorities to take more stringent action against copyright violators.

New Delhi based lawyer Chander Lall represents the American Motion Pictures Association in India. He says, a decade ago, enforcement agencies treated piracy more as an economic rather than a criminal offense, and action against offenders was slow. But he says that is changing.

"They have realized that copyright piracy has almost 800 percent profit margins," Lall said. "So all elements who are indulging in heinous crimes are all now dealing with pirated software and pirating copyright works. So there is a change. The magistrates are getting more sensitive to the fact that this is a very serious crime. Police is getting sensitized to it. As the industry raises its voice it is being heard by different elements. So, it is changing, slowly but surely."

But Bollywood wants faster change. It is asking authorities to create a separate police and judicial system to enforce copyright laws in India, because it says India's judicial system moves too slowly to be effective.

Bollywood is the world's most prolific film industry, producing more than 800 films every year. Its global audience is estimated at 3.5 billion people. But, is probably much larger, if the audiences for pirated movies are also taken into account.