Meanwhile, how do these DVDs get to The Shop in the first place? This is a long and complicated story. And my telling of it starts in another shop. G. Electronics, in a market in Lodi Colony.
S. G., the owner of G. Elec, is a movie fanatic with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Hollywood films. He has been in the business of Video/VCD/DVD parlours since the age of seventeen, and has been in the business for nineteen years.
The first time I went to his shop to hire a film, I saw one of his employees walking in with the CD hidden under his shirt.
I asked him ñ Why?
And he said, Well, it’s illegal, these are pirated copies. But people want
to see them so I stock them. I know how completely illegal it is because
Iím supposed to fight this.
– You’re part of some anti piracy cell?
– I’m part of the MPA….
S G has a collection of over 11,000 titles, many of them which
he gets pirated ‘from Singapore’. He gets them on his own travels. Or when customers are flying abroad, he asks them to get back stuff.
The next time I went to his shop I asked him why he was part of the MPA , when he himself seemed to suggest that piracy was inevitable. After all the MPA, the Motion Picture Association based in Delhi, has an extensive anti-piracy agenda, and conduct anti-piracy raids along with the Police.
– To get rid of the competition.
Among his clientele, those who hire pirated discs from him, are some of the richest cinema exhibitors in Delhi.
This February, I had an opportunity to go to Malaysia. So I told SG. Who enthusiastically gave me a list of about sixty odd films, a large proportion of them American teenage romantic comedies, releases of the major Hollywood studios, to buy from Malaysia. He specifically asked for VCDs rather than DVDs. He said it didnít matter whether they were pirated or genuine, as only a very trained eye (like his own) could tell the difference.
– Why VCDs?
-The DVDs Iíll still get here. But they (the Studios) donít release the VCDs because theyíre easy to copy.
With that list, I went to ask my other major source of films, S. at Palika, whether he had more specific directions on where I could get good DVDs from in Malaysia. He looked totally contemptuous. And slightly alarmed.
- Donít bring pirated DVDs back with you. Youíll get caught at customs. Besides Malaysia doesnít have good stuff anyway. You might get camera prints. Other shopkeepers here in Palika get their stuff from Malaysia, but I donít. I canít afford to lose my customers.
- So where do you get your stuff from?
- Taiwan. My supplier is the same guy who supplies Amazon.com.
- How do you order them. Email?
- Yeah, emailÖ My DVDs have all the features you see advertised on the Amazon
DVDs. There is absolutely no difference. They are Ama-zone, I have
The Shop. The difference is that they charge in dollars, I charge
– But the packaging is different?
- If I want, I can get the same packaging. But the problem is with customs. If it comes in the fancy packaging it will be much bulkier. Itíll get stuck at customs. This way, (with just the soft sleeve packaging) I can get in a hundred DVDs like this. (He makes a compressed gesture with his hands).
– How do the DVDs get here? By air?
- They come by air. But not till India. Here there would be a big problem with customs at the airport. So it enters India by road. In containers.
- From where? Nepal?
- Yeah. Thereís no problem offloading in Nepal, thereís no hassle there. From there it comes by road.
I met a Tibetan Nepali on the train back from Goa. He lives in Kathmandu, had studied in India, and had spent the last two months in Goa, partying, and selling CDs. In Goa where everyone sold spiritual new age music, he found an important niche by selling classic rock and other seventies music. The Who, Bob Marley, ClaptonÖ Thousands of CDs burned in Nepal and brought in his backpack to Goa, where he sold each CD for two hundred, two fifty rupees. He tapped into the network of Tibetan handicraft sellers in Goa to start off his sales. It was his second year of selling CDs, and already he knew there wouldnít be a third. According to him, there had already been a couple of raids, and next year would be very risky.
He was also worried about how heíd get back home to Kathmandu, after the declaration of Emergency.
I never bought any of SGís VCDs from Malaysia.
The month before I landed, a nineteen year old VCD peddler had been shot in the chest by policemen on a raid in Penang. In public. In a busy market place. The bullet had passed through the peddler and hit a shopper.
VCDs were sort of thin on the ground while I was there.
Major Hollywood studios do not release films on VCD in India. A Malaysian VCD peddler is shot in the marketplace. Why is the VCD so ‘genuinely’ alarming?
When you hold a VCD in you hand, a lightweight plastic disc, its shining mirror surfaces, what does it say to you? It is not a durable format, dust and scratches can easily destroy the data contained. It is not an ‘aesthetic’ format either. Images are low quality, beyond a certain enlargement, the picture disintegrates into visible pixels ñ picture elements. The sound is mono. To watch a film on celluloid in a movie theatre, to watch a film on a DVD, and to watch a film on a VCD are very different sensory experiences. But the VCD is cheap, it is easy to copy, and it easy to carry. It is very very easy to watch. As far as copyright enforcers are concerned, a VCD is a ‘genuine fake’, like counterfeit currency. Which promises you value, but by its circulation, devalues the ‘real’ currency, itself a promissory note. The anxiety around the VCD is the same as the anxiety around money; that an ‘inflation’ of images will lead to a loss of value. But does the abundance of images depreciate value in the way it does for money, the most abstracted expression of ‘value’? Or does value ëincreaseí with circulation?
The VCD is also remarkable, perhaps unprecedented, in the swiftness of its copying and circulation. To counter this, there is now talk of digital cinema. Distributors want to take high-end digital copies of films into small towns and low end theatres simultaneously with the release of films in big centers, to counter the threat to profits by the circulation of video. If, instead of a film coming to a nearby theatre a month after its release, it comes out on the same day as everywhere else, wouldn’t you rather watch the film on the big screen? The ‘real’ thing?
But the technological imagination/innovation that makes it possible to imagine digital cinema beamed into theatres via sattelite and encrypted discs also makes it possible to have films with the much higher image quality of DVDs circulate as easily as VCDs. In an issue of Theartre World, a magazine for theatre distributors and exhibitors, an issue from the year 2000 carried an article entitled, ‘The Mother of All Piracy’ . This piece was concerned with the emergence of DivX technologies, which enables DVD quality films to be copied and circulated as easily as VCDs. The concern with the DivX mirrors the debate on digital cinma exhibition in the pages of Theatre World; it becomes its ‘evil’ mirror image. for both DivX and digital cinema are dependent on technologies of compression.
Media piracy, in all the instances above, follows the trade routes and seems to use the networks of earlier transnational trade flows, older than both colonialism and the boundaries of the modern nation state. The trade routes and connections of a world that was global before ëglobalizationí. These routes, via technology, are now the routes for the ëinformalí economy.
Kano, which gets its pirate videos from Dubai and Beirut, and now Pakistan, has been an important node for trans-Saharan trade routes from pre-colonial times.
VCD copies of Indian films are manufactured in Pakistan.
A Tibetan, via Nepal, sells CDs in India.
Palika Bazaar gets its foreign pornography via Malaysia, in a strange echo of the Indian Ocean Trade that linked South East Asia to the Middle East, East Africa and the Indian sub-continent, much before European colonialism.
Writing about Petaling Street, where ëgenuine fakesí are sold, Ziauddin Sardar makes explicit connections between modern Petaling Street and the ëIndian Ocean worldí.
To read a conscious, ideological resistance into the informal economy and pirate markets may be inaccurate, but the notion of an earlier, now informal, transnational globalism as a challenge to a globalized intellectual property regime has its possibilities.
The TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreements, initated by American transnational corporations, seek to harmonize the Intellectual Property Laws of developing countries with those of developed countries. A harmonization linked with trade, and ëmost favoured nation statusí at the level of policy. At one level, this could be seen as leading to harsher enforcement, as seen in the brutal death of the VCD peddler from Penang. On the other hand, because of the enforced nature of TRIPS requirements in many countries, buying pirated goods can also work as protest and counter movement to the ìperceived illegitimacy and plain old fashioned colonialism that the enforced Trips provisions have come to symbolize. As Shujen Wang argues, global copyright governance involves the multiplying and overlapping of different networks and sovereignties. While state IP laws may appear to be compliant with the TRIPS provisions on paper, in reality the implementation and enforcement of IP regulations can vary from country to country. The emergence of informal transgovernmental networks suggest forms of ìcomplex sovereigntyî which break down the internal structural coherence of the state. With the emergence of this polycentric legal order, a ëglobal versus nationalí approach is insufficient.
Finally, history deployed, perhaps ahistorically, as metaphor.
Ziauddin Sardar, writes about Malacca, the fabulously wealthy port, one of the most vital links of the cosmopolitan Indian ocean trade. The Portugese, desiring the fabulous wealth of Malacca, conquer it in 1511. But in their hands, this fabulous wealth seems to disappear.
For, as Sardar tells us, the wealth of Malacca was not based primarily on its geographic location, or because it was the source of a specific product. ëits glory was founded on its openness and hospitality, the service it rendered to the ceaseless stream of peopleÖí And on the intricate networks of credit and trust that made this trade possible.
..via Original Copies, and Genuine Fakes?