In one of his interviews, actor Chanchal Chowdhury lamented, "Quality content will not be created anymore if you do not pay for them and keep looking for links (of pirated movies and series)."
Echoing his words, Redoan Rony, the young award-winning film director, spewed anger through a Facebook post saying, "Why can't people watch a good series through subscription? How can the director or producer go for the next series if people steal the first one? The money people spend on a restaurant meal or CNG fare can pay for a year-worth of original content."
Both the actor and director were talking about the recent critically acclaimed web series - "Taqdeer" and how the age-old problem of digital piracy has been undermining its financial success.
Back in 2008, the United States' Copyright Office described "digital piracy" as "the illegal act of duplicating, copying, or sharing a digital work without the permission of the copyright holder".
What that means is, digital piracy is a form of thievery. Since downloading and distributing any software, music, movies, or other online contents deny the owners any credit or financial gain, it is an unconscionable act of theft.
Population-wise, Bangladesh is a huge country; with over 170 million inhabitants living within its territory, who are considered to be culturally very conscious. Bangladesh should have been an alluring and promising market for entertainment-content makers and distributors.
Yet, ironically, critical success for any movie, song, or series inevitably means that it will be pirated online and offline across the country.
One AFP report from Singapore that discussed digital piracy in Asia back in 2009 concluded that Bangladesh topped all Asian nations in digital piracy with 92 percent of all online content being distributed illegally!
Since then, things have not improved. A list published by "Business Software Alliance" in 2015, stated Bangladesh still had an 86 percent software piracy rate - making us the fourth-largest consumer of pirated software.
In some cases, the situation has even deteriorated significantly ever since.
As digitalisation rapidly increased internet and smartphone users in Bangladesh, the losses incurred by content creators have increased tremendously. It has not only ruined veteran artists financially, but also instilled deep fear among young aspirants who wish to be an entertainment content creator in the future.
This has destroyed the age-old Bengali tradition of "respecting artists and their arts" causing immeasurable harm to Bangladesh's music, films, and legal online distributing services.
The late Ayub Bacchu, a veteran and much-loved musician, once expressed his regret to media outlets - Bdnews24 and Channel-i - saying he was deeply hurt because of the situation that is prevalent in Bangladesh concerning piracy.
"Why would artists go on creating songs and musical content anymore? A shopkeeper is transferring 3,000 songs for Tk10! Those who made those 3,000 songs, shedding 300,000 drops of sweat, did not get rich! Nobody ever got rich! Among all this, an empire has collapsed!", said the offended and resentful artist.
The movie industry has also suffered tremendous losses, as have the online platforms, both of which are suffering further as talented creators - who have all but concluded that piracy will never let the industry recover again - are leaving the industry in droves.
Critically acclaimed films like "Aynabaji", "Oggatonama", and many more were pirated as soon as they hit theatres causing massive distress among artists and film-makers.
However, it is not that the subscription fees or movie tickets are too expensive for the average Bangladeshis. Streaming services such as Hoichoi, Bongo, Addatimes, BanglaFlix, and others offer lucrative deals which can be as low as Tk 150 for a 3-month subscription!
A similar picture can be seen in the movie and music industries as well.
The picture is bleak in the wider world as well. Webroot, an online site, published an article called "The Societal Costs of Digital Piracy" that revealed that 95 percent of all musical content were pirated in 2010!
Recently, The US Chamber of Commerce estimated that the US film and TV industry is losing as much as $71 billion annually because of piracy.
Though piracy has been harming developed nations as well, this problem is especially harmful for the developing ones.
In countries like the US, the UK, or Germany, the industries are generating enough revenue that can keep them well over the danger line. Movies are still grossing billions of dollars each year (breaking the records of the last) and software is still selling at an acceptable rate which is not the case in Bangladesh.
Industries are barely staying afloat nowadays with the number of digital pirates going up every year. Illegal DVDs cost Tk50, memory cards filled with pirated songs and softwares are being sold openly on the streets of Dhaka, Jashore, Khulna, Chattogram, Sylhet, and all other parts of the country.
Now, with the streaming services coming online due to digitalisation and more people owning smart devices to access digital content, piracy has skyrocketed!
People do not even need to spend Tk10 for music or Tk50 for an illegal DVD anymore, they just need to click a link to download everything they could ever want!
And with that click, they are sucking out the lifeblood of our entertainment and software industries, which is barely alive as it is!
The way forward
Harvard Business Review published a writing titled "The Digital-Piracy Dilemma" back in October 2020, based on numerous studies that can shed some light on the way forward regarding the rampant copyright infringements caused by digital piracy happening in our country and the world.
The paper concludes that digital piracy does reduce legal sales, harming original creators.
It also comments that the notion that "piracy" is the only way to spread the news of quality content in the underdeveloped world, where people are not well informed, is not quite true.
Legal sites such as YouTube, IMDB, and social media sites can also help "spread the word" online.
Most importantly, the paper concludes - anti-piracy regulations can reduce piracy and increase legal sales.
The US enacted the Digital Millennium Security Act (DMCA) in 1998, which is one of many US copyright laws that stop digital piracy and implemented treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
Implementations and effective use of these laws have helped the US counter the threat of piracy better than other countries. Many western nations have successfully used similar laws to curb piracy as well.
Bangladesh also has The Copyright Act, 2000 to preserve the rights of content creators. This legislation, along with The Copyright Rules, 2006 seeks to provide protection to the owners and punish the offenders.
Chapter 15 of The Copyright Act, 2000 details the penalties a copyright offender must receive. Section 85 of the same chapter says,
"Any person as in his possession any plate and copies for the purpose of making infringing copies of any work in which copyright subsist, or knowingly and for his private profit causes any such work to be performed in public without the consent of the owner of the copyright, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to taka fifty thousand or with both."
The law also details other penalties and protections relating to copyright infringement issues, which can stop digital piracy significantly and help original creators.
Yet, piracy continues at its own speed and sometimes, by gathering speed. Though law enforcement agencies, sometimes, do arrest some illegal DVD makers here and there, the problem persists and shows no sign of slowing down.
It seems the law has to be implemented more vigorously and effectively to end this scourge.
People need to be educated on this and public awareness regarding how digital piracy has been destroying our art industries must be raised through discussions and other outreach programs, wherever possible.
Only through vigorous implementations of our copyright laws, reducing cyber-crimes, and launching a public awareness movement, can we hope to revive our dying industries and with them, save our artists.
Days when Bengal was called the cultural centre of the Indian subcontinent, are not far behind us and without supporting our artists we cannot really save our rich cultural and creative traditions.
We must spread this message throughout the nation that the artists must survive for the arts to thrive.
Then maybe, just maybe, we would be more inclined to spend Tk175 for a streaming service subscription than watching a masterpiece like "Taqdeer" illegally online.
Sharifuzzaman is a postgraduate student of English Language and Literature at Jashore University of Science and Technology with an avid interest in geopolitics, literature and history.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.