An Open letter to Actor Vishal..

Dear Vishal, i wish to write a very short letter to you. The last year has been quite successful for you, not only in your elections in the ‘Actors’ and ‘Producers’ council, but in the subsequent actions against ‘Tamilrockers’, as well. Today, as i type this, you are making ‘news’, for a very different reason.

After a brief spurt of “news feeds” , that your nomination was rejected by the E. C for the R.K.Nagar election, it now appears that your nomination has been accepted now. I believe you are going to start campaigning from tomorrow on. May the ‘stars’ and ‘gods’ even make you win, if you are indeed deserving. My best wishes to you on this front.

There is this minor grievance that I have and I hope that you will be able to address this. It doesn’t concern you directly, but my grievance is targeted against those, who are associated with an organization, of which you happen to be – the President.

I have been a follower of the official Twitter handle of ‘Tamilnadu Film Producers Council’ – @TFPC_AP, for sometime now. I have interacted with the handle a few times, mostly on issues surrounding ‘piracy’, and even ‘liked’ and ‘retweeted’, a few tweets.

Following the endorsement of this handle (Film Producers Council) supporting/defending your actions which you have taken about contesting the R.K.Nagar seat, i raised a question if there was an ethical conflict in the official Twitter handle supporting, what was a decision taken by its leader (Vishal) in a personal capacity (and non official capacity) , that has no bearing on the ‘Producers Council’.

My question was raised, given that a few members of the Producers Council themselves have come out in public, and raised objections. As an incidental co-incidence, you yourself admit in a reply to Director Cheran saying that, this action of yours is an ‘independent decision‘.

Although I make a reference to Director Cheran in the tweet, I am not bringing the issue between Director ‘Cheran’ and ‘you’, as it may distort the views that i wish to present.

Hypothetically speaking, there may be those, within your own group (that won the ‘Producer Council’ elections last year) who may have supported your decision to become ‘President’ of the Producers Council and still support the Council’s actions , but may not be in favour of you, taking part in a public election. For such individuals, I am sure, they cannot question you, as you have taken this decision in ‘an individual capacity’.

So this is my perspective. How can a common Twitter handle that balances both these perspectives, tweet in favour of one? If at all, the person who manages the official Twitter handle of @TFPC_AP, should have done it from his own handle, and not from the organization.

I think the snapshots are quite clear, that i wished to share this thought.

The Twitter handle could have chosen to not reply to my tweet, but it chose to – an answer that I am unable to decipher, unfortunately. (For the president, by the president. Stay within your limits S..)

Following this reply, I have been blocked by the handle. The handle could have chosen to stay silent, but what was the need to ‘block me’? Off course, the easiest way out here in such cases, is to call someone who doesn’t agree with your views as a ‘troll’, and block them. But I don’t think that could be the case, as this same handle has liked some of my tweets, in the past – Tweets, that were favorable to the organization’s objectives.

So now, is my understanding that, the @TFPC_AP will not tolerate any voices that raise objections to its views or will it simply block those that do? Is this the purported ‘democracy’ that you speak off when you raise the banner of campaigning in your Twitter handle, a ‘democracy’ that unfortunately can’t handle dissent?

Again, I reiterate that this has nothing to do with you. But a leader not only takes responsibility of those under him but also sets positive examples. There are many examples of ‘suppression of dissent’ that we see and hear, and i hope that you may be different.

I have added the interactions for your convenience. Just to let you know, that i haven’t left out anything to suit my narrative, you may check all the other interactions that have happened between ‘me’ and ‘@TFPC_AP’.

Best wishes for your future endeavors, and I hope that, in case you win, ‘you’ and ‘your online media handles’ may choose to be a little more democratic, in future.

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Is TamilRockers upping the ante?

For over a year now, Tamilrockers has been on the run, constantly hopping from one URL to another. Even if it is for a few days. But importantly and to the pain of the Tamil film industry it is still around and continues to do what is has been notoriously known for – release films online, within a few hours of a theatrical release.

A few minutes ago, the mouthpiece handle of the Tamil film producers council has announced that they have made a major break through in blocking advert revenue for Tamil Rockers.

Parallel to this announcement, one of the handles bearing TR’s name has released a link of an apk file. We don’t know what’s in that link, yet, since that link doesn’t seem to be working on my phone. For all that we know, it may be a fake handle hoping to inject malware and take control of users phones.

But what if, this is a first step into something else? We don’t know yet, but i have been thinking that with this constant URL blocking is TR planning something along the lines of Popcorn time or something? A way of getting users to connect to the system even if the URL is permanently dead? Not too sure but the upcoming days present some interesting events for sure.

Mersal, The Ruling Government and the Streissand Effect !!!

Mersal, the Vijay starrer film has got a much needed publicity boost from unexpected quarters. One of the local political leaders had requested the banning of scenes in the film, which were critical of GST. Mind you, this is a film which has been certified and passed by the Censor Board. So, when a representative of the ruling party makes such an intimatory tactic to suppress ‘freedom of speech’, Social media and Twitter just exploded yesterday. What was supposed to be a local issue, became a pan-Indian trend on Twitter. Another reason which fanned the flames was an unneccesary controversy when a politician highlighted the religion of Actor.Vijay – something that was totally uncalled for.

A day later, the politicians may have got what they desired. Possibly due to pressure, the film makers seem to have agreed to get a re-certification ( Possibly fearing repurcursions which may affect their business interests) on certain conflicting scenes, but not before the scenes in question have started moving around (with subtitles) the Internet, thereby defeating the very purpose, that the leaders in question, wished for.

Both Actor Vishal and a Tamilrockers handle have expressed their support for Mersal in their own ways. Vishal has condemned the need for a re-certification while Tamil Rockers in its own ways, says that an unmuted HD version of the film will be available, therefore rendering the act of muting/excising of any subsequent theatre prints.

Two conclusions here –

  1. One, The leaders who demanded that critical scenes be removed, don’t seem to be knowing of the ‘Streissand Effect’. I hope that they have learnt it now. It was totally uncalled for, but then, no one would have predicted that the issue would bombard at a national level.
  2. Two, it is #Piracy which has protected #FreedomOfSpeech in this case. Not many in the copyright industry would appreciate this, but ‘Free Speech and Freedom of Expression’ supporters would definitely appreciate the role, played by the pirated prints here, which are serving as a ‘Source for information'(No other legit prints of Mersal are yet available to the public.

 

 

‘Mersal’ – Piracy wins this round too

A film leaking online within hours of an official theatrical release, makes news no longer. However, the events that led up to the much hyped, and now successfully running Mersal ( Released yesterday) and the leak which happened yesterday need an introspection.

Vishal’s group wins TFPC Elections – Without any tangible results being obtained from the two decade old menace of Digital Piracy, a small group of individuals, lead by Actor Vishal, contested elections in the Producers council. This lobby which subsequently emerged successful in the local-body elections, had come to power, on the promise that meaningful action would be taken against the ‘TamilRockers’ website, which over a period of time has allegedly become the flagship bearer of hosting infringing Tamil film content.

Following their coming to power, producer Gnanavel Raja, one of the board members of the TFPC ( Tamilnadu Film Producers Council), challenged Tamilrockers in an open duel. At the same time, pressure was being mounted against TamilRockers, and its URL’s were being seized, only for the notorious website to keep hopping its URL’s.

Social Media Shaming campaign – A month ago, events reached its pinnacle, when a person based in Triplicane was arrested on charges of being an admin of the notorious site. The fact that this happened on the eve of the release of Actor Vishal’s ( President of TFPC) film, Thuparivalan, was seen as an act of publicity, by some quarters. This had no bearing, as a pirated print of Thupparivalan, also subsequently found its way out into the online space. Later, there were also reports that the arrested person, was not associated with the alleged website. There has been little follow up by the news channels on this matter, unfortunately.

A few days later, TFPU upped the ante, by releasing the names and pictures of two individuals in social media, and accused them of being associated with the ‘Tamilrockers’ portal. One of the accused individuals has sent out a denial through his Facebook account, but TPFC’s Twitter handle asks him to come out into the open, to prove his innocence. The issue stands at that. There is little follow up on this side of the story, too.

Alleged Tamil Rockers Audio – As pressure started to mount among Tamil rockers, an audio surfaced on the Internet, with an anoymous individual throwing nepotism charges against a selected few of the Tamil film industry. He claimed that he had no money to become a Film hero, and it was his frustration that led him to become the prime antagonist of the film industry. He would have his revenge by running Tamil Rockers. Interestingly, the voice declared an open challenge to Actor Vishal to stop them, if he could. The voice also claimed that being a fan of Actor Vijay, the film Mersal would be updated not immediately, but in a day or two.

‘Revenge’ and the Story of ‘Tamil Rockers’ – About ten days ago, Vox’s web portal published an excellent article based on the interviews, of one of the disgruntled admins of ‘Tamil Rockers’. This admin was allegedly part of the original team that was involved in the daily operations of the ‘Tamil Rockers’ portal. Individual differences cropped up between the team, and this person decided to go ahead with his story, and have his revenge. It was an excellent article by the publisher, except for the fact that some figures were misleading. The portal claimed at ‘Tamil Rockers’ invested only 10 Lakhs to get returns of over 200 Crores. No documents were mentioned in this article to substantiate these figures. There was no break up of ‘operational’ + ‘content acquisition’ costs Versus the potential revenues earned, by the portal. The article itself mentions that each film would need an ‘acquisition cost’ of 1l onwards. This would easily translate to a much larger amount per year, considering the number of films published and would be much greater than the 10 lakhs mentioned by the portal.

Social Media AntiPiracy Action – The mention that Mersal would be released set up substantial number of ‘Vijay fans’ against the release portal. It is a little ironic here, that several of the fans who had supported the portal, now felt the heat, when the portal would do the same, for their beloved hero. In the midst of this turn around, several social media profiles bearing the Portal’s name were taken down. A jubiliant TPFC twitter handle took a dig at Tamil Rocker’s frequent domain hopping.

We have no ‘Social Media’ handle, claims Tamil Rockers – A couple of weeks, as several handles were shut down, the ‘Tamil Rockers’ website sent out a message that, they had no official Social media handles. Yet, at the same time, several handles continued to exist, bearing the portals name. A large amount of them were likely to be fake. One of these handles claimed that, ‘Mersal’ would be released only after 3 days.

‘Mersal’ leaks – A few hours after ‘Mersal’ was released in theatres, a first 15 minute cam shot was uploaded on YouTube. The link soon found its way to Social media. The watermark on this print however, did not have the name of Tamilrockers, but of another website. A few minutes later, One of the Twitter handles bearing Tamilrockers name, claimed that they had obtained a copy of a cam print and were involved in cleaning up the audio. A few hours later, the handle claimed to have uploaded a HD print version in a Torrent feed.

TPFC Response – While TPFC’s official Twitter handle continues to keep issuing threatening tweets to those sharing links on Social media, and taking steps to remove the URL’s of hosted Torrents and other streaming URL’s, the damage done is irreversible. Yet, the moot question is, why doesn’t the film industry use pre-existing solutions like YouTube’s ContentID? Logically, it won’t stop piracy, but it can minimise it. If a film producer bears the risk of showing the film to the censor board ( Censor Board copies have been alleged to leak in the past), why can’t they upload it to YouTube? Had they done that, the 15 minutes upload would have got blocked immediately.

Off course again, if the person searching for the link had not found it there, he would have looked for another link likely, rather than decide to spend money in a theatre. That is more logical, but then, do film producers have a choice? The onus on spending money for Anti-Piracy action is more for publicity these days, deterrant ( does it deter people anymore?) , and to make it as inconvenient as possible for a user to get infringing content, rather than getting it as a way to increase revenue, which is the object of making a film. Then again, Does the film industry have an alternative choice, today?

 

 

 

Piracy and introduction to the External Variable conundrum

The popular and generic summary of the act of indulgence in piracy, is attributed to a myth, that ‘content access’ is free. Even if this has a very very small iota of truth embedded within this statement, it does not cover the complex maze over the relationship that this ‘act’ has with perfectly otherwise legitimate variables.

Let’s put this is in perspective with a small example. Let’s say that ‘X’ purchased a legitimate copy of a Tamil film in a CD format, about 15 years ago. Now, the general idea would be that ‘X’ has been licensed to view this film in a ‘home watch – non commercial – non distributive’ format i. e essentially personal use.

Within the next five years however, CD technology has been replaced with DVD technology, and then USB’s and now, we have even gone wireless. The problem now is that ‘X’ has a CD that is not compatible with evolving hardware technology, as drives continue to turn obsolete and find no place in contemporary mobile devices .

It would be therefore rationally insane for ‘X’ to keep purchasing the same movie over and over again, just because the playback technology is changing.

So, ‘X’ resorts to something called ‘ripping’, which is essentially breaking down complex and in some cases, even encrypted media content to a digital video standard format that can now be stored in drive memory, can be converted into other formats and resized, to suit the needs of modern day mobile devices, for his own enjoyment. Up and until this point, there is no problem.

However, the act of ‘copying’ for X’s own legitimate uses conflicts with the act of ‘copying’ by someone else who may want to make multiple copies for ‘piracy’ purposes. The latter is a ‘criminal offence’ while the former is possibly ‘fair use’.

So, how would a media company perceive this issue? IN order to protect their own rights, media companies continue to work on creating more complex ‘encryption’ codes, to make it as difficult to rip out a movie to an ‘unencrypted’ format.

In this ECOSYSTEM is now a third player. There are several technology companies that sell products or software ( there are open source software too) that attempt to break these encrypted codes.

The onus of the usage of the tools developed by the tech company should logically lie on the individual user and the nature of the application, and that the technology company should therefore be given ‘safe harbour’, but sometimes, these companies are also targeted by the media companies.

So, is the act of the technology company ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.? Is it building a product that enables a legitimately purchasing user to ensure that his rights are protected into the future, even if the playback and storage technology changes? Or is it facilitating ‘easy copying and piracy’ as an extension? Is it under mining the efforts taken by the media company which has its rights to protect its products from abuse and has spent huge resources to build its encryption ?

Like the Vedhalam’s questions, even King Vikramadittan won’t have an answer. There is no right, no wrong. It is a matter of perspective.

This is just a simple example. Copyright, Censorship, Proprietary and Open Source, Law, Internet speeds, Fair Use, Abuse, Piracy and several other variables are intertwined so tightly, with an ecosystem that continues to grow even more complex with each passing day.

A double whammy for the தமிழ் film industry

A few years ago, the State Government of Thamizhnadu announced a tax holiday for films whose titles would be in Thamizh words – it was a moment of happiness for the industry. The honeymoon lasted a few years.

Some directors like Venkat prabu even exploited this loophole shamelessly by marketing his Surya starrer as ‘Mass’, only in the end to have his title cut down to ‘மா௬’, which literally translates to ‘pollution’, a far cry from what the title originally should have stood for, all this, only to avail the tax exemptions.

But those were different times. The state then had a charismatic leader who moved her coins on populist schemes. This one was just one of them. But now, the honeymoon is long over. The state now lies in total administrative chaos for over a year and needs funds to replenish its coffers, and it looks to the film industry.

The issue started simmering when the state Government ordered an additional tax, in addition to GST, leading to temporary chaos. There were representations from the industry and now after a few months, an official order has been passed to the chagrin of the industry. 10 percent tax, over GST for Thamizh films and 20 percent for non Thamizh films. Mind you, the state gets a share in the GST bill, so effectively this is a double taxation by the state. Definitely a double blow for an industry which is past its halcyon days and which now needs inflated free ‘teaser’ and ‘trailer’ numbers to push a product that has lost steam to piracy, social media and other engagement forms.

More over, this comes at a time when the Fight against Piracy, from the industry’s perspective, has never been better. ‘Tamil Rockers’, the flagship piracy website has been URL hopping for over a year, as each of its domains gets blocked and its social media presence continues to get obliterated.

Sadly for the industry, This action invariably gives audience the moral right to continue support Piracy, as it is bound to escalate ticket prices.

As for its publicity seeking leader of the Tamil film producer council, who has now obtained the image of a warrior solely fighting the piracy beast (and who gets trolled in social media memes) , his request that the industry would be ready to take this double whammy on, if the state removed 100% piracy, would be passed on to the chief minister.

It isn’t that the state has not taken actions in the past, and even if disc piracy was totally eliminated (how many people still see content from discs anyways.?), under which state’s jurisdiction does the Internet come under?

Interesting prospects lie ahead..