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'Den of pirates': Why OTTs should tackle Telegram soon

During lockdown, piracy on Telegram went up by 1092 per cent.

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KOLKATA: There is no dearth of OTT platforms in India, and which one is the most popular is a matter of debate. But what is very evident is Telegram’s overwhelming popularity as an alternative to providing free access to any new movies or shows launched on these platforms. The wide availability and easy access to pirated shows is making the messaging app more appealing day by day to a section of internet users. Even as OTT platforms burn mounds of cash to roll out premium content, such piracy could eat up a significant revenue going forward.

Soaring popularity of Telegram

Make a list of all recent popular shows or original movies that dropped on streaming services – Scam 1992, Mirzapur Season 2, Ludo, Naxalbari – and you’ll already find every single one of them on Telegram. Students who don’t earn yet but are keen to watch these programmes, thus, go the pocket-friendly way by downloading the Telegram app. And another section of users who have subscription to a few OTT platforms but don’t want to shell out money to watch just one show on a different, unsubscribed platform, use the app as well. Moreover, the simplicity in downloading content both in terms of mechanism, required time and data – unlike Torrent – has made it a den of pirates.

“Telegram is a vast source of VOD content; many groups offer updated content of newly released movies and series, even with subtitles in different languages. We have seen certain titles appear on Telegram within a few hours of release. Pirates are increasingly using such groups as a way to easily share, exchange and sell this content without being exposed to malware prevalent on the dark web,” Synamedia chief intelligence manager-security Ted Rose said.

During a webinar hosted in late October by Indiantelevision.com, SonyLIV technology head Manish Verma also acknowledged that Telegram is evolving as a potential threat. He added that it is very important for the platforms to stop piracy with content acquisition and content production costs increasing – be it for original content or live sports events.

How pirates use the platform

Synamedia’s Rose shared that streaming pirates are increasingly using Telegram groups as a way to distribute links to consumers. In fact, streaming of live events can be found on the messaging app as links that direct users to open internet streaming websites. The app can only share files that are stored on its cloud service or links to other sites.

On the other hand, there are Telegram groups that share stolen M3U links to different subscription-based pirate IPTV networks. These links are updated daily and usually contain information on the content available on each pirate network. Rose went on to share that pirates have taken to Telegram, as well as the dark web, to share and sell OTT subscribers’ stolen credentials.

“It is really a game of cat and mouse. If there are repeated claims of infringement, Telegram will shut down a group. Removal of a channel can be more difficult for a pirate to recover from, although some pirates can pre-empt this by notifying consumers in advance of backup channels they can use should the first group or channel be removed,” he added.

Surge in piracy during Covid2019

With a massive uptick in the use of streaming services during the pandemic, Telegram piracy has also seen a huge surge as well. As sporting events came to a halt in the wake of the crisis, pirates were scrambling for other ways to fill the revenue gap. As a result, OTT providers with premium VOD content and originals emerged as hot targets at that time.

According to data shared by Markscan, a firm that provides digital IP protection to entertainment companies, piracy on telegram skyrocketed by 1092 per cent, or about 11 times, during lockdown.

How can the law help?

Although there are anti-piracy laws in India, it is tough to track the breach happening on Telegram due to encryption. Moreover, it becomes more difficult to take legal steps as the platform itself is legitimate despite the fact that there is pirated content available, according to Kaushik Moitra, partner at Bharucha and Partners.

Moitra explained that Telegram is not under liability to take pirated content off until someone files a complaint. Hence, it is not possible for Indian law enforcement to actively track the infringement. He noted that the onus is on individual OTT platforms to track whether or not any illegitimate link is being circulated on the messaging app so the latter can take it down immediately. However, he mentioned that Telegram will be put on notice if the OTT platforms opt for John Doe order for pre-infringement injunction.

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