Intellectual Property in India is Coming of Age

By Pickle  June 15, 2021
Bobby Bedi

India has become a creator of IP and this has led to the realisation that we need to protect our Intellectual Property. Laws have been changed and tweaked to match the new reality and today it is difficult to violate copyrights

By Bobby Bedi
CEO & Producer, Contentflow Studios

India is a relatively new entrant in the IPR game. Just over two decades ago, India believed that
IPR should be free. I remember an Indian diplomat talking at a WIPO event in Geneva and she was rabidly opposed to the protection of IPR.

It was a time when we felt that as a developing nation, India should not have to pay royalties for software; new medicines and expensive textbooks. Apart from software, medicines and books, there was rampant theft of international music and sometimes international films too. But no one cared. Some years ago, we made a film called Mango which was based on a Korean story called Couples. We paid substantial royalties for the rights. However, it didn’t help because someone else copied it first and released their film. We sued and got the money, but the film could not find a release.

Fortunately, such conundrum is now a thing of the past and our IT industry is the catalyzing force behind this change.

India has become a creator of IP and this has led to the realisation that we need to protect our Intellectual Property. Laws have been changed and tweaked to match the new reality and today it is difficult to violate copyrights.

I suppose that it is natural that your desire to protect your property is driven by the fact that you now own property.

The entertainment sector, too, has witnessed a major change in the way it perceives IP. This has
been driven by two factors.

Firstly, the Western world has realized that India is a much larger market for films than it was. This growth has been driven by the dubbing of big Hollywood films into local languages. The big ones now compete with the biggest of Bollywood. This has propelled the American studios to tie up with big Indian producers to attack piracy at all levels.

Secondly, for the first time India is realizing the international value of its property. This has been
driven by the advent of the streamers or Apps, as we call them. Netflix, Amazon and the studios have finally brought in international quality to India. This has affected the Indian producer in two
ways—they may either compete or perish—and many are perishing.

Fortunately, some are competing too. They have also completely changed the budgetary landscape of Indian content. Series that were made for hundreds of thousands of rupees are now being made for tens of millions. All those participating in the creation of IP—writers, actors, directors and producers—are benefiting. Finally, as our IP is being protected we are creating high quality, innovative content that the world is likely to consume. That is a great change.

It would seem that this is becoming a great story with a happy ending. But sadly, this is not entirely true. This story has a serious twist in the tail. A danger lurks, and it lurks in the space of Intellectual Property Creation.

Very briefly, I want to talk about the nature of property, real or intellectual. A film or show is no
different from a piece of real estate. It has a capital value and it has a revenue generating capability. So far, we lived of the revenue generating capability of our virtual assets. Our films and shows made money for us at release and then gave us a steady stream of revenue from various re-sales thereafter. I have lived off the licensing revenues of my films for decades.

Today’s buyer is much more inclined to purchase your property outright. This means money up
front but nothing thereafter. It’s a good recipe for good times but sadly, good times don’t last forever.

Now that our intellectual property has value, someone else gets to own it.

As we mature as producers, we will have to find sustainable hybrids wherein we get to keep some
of our IP and with it, future earnings from our content. Some people with financial strength are
trying out models where they get to retain their IP, but for most it is a one way street.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

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