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Cinema, Piracy and Temporality

Lawrence Liang

In the early days of digital technology Jack Valenti, the former President of the Motion Pictures Association of America triumphantly announced that ‘The fury of the future is already upon us. The explosion of channel capacity, the hurling to home by direct satellite, the multiplicity of optical fibre, among other magic, are the new centurions of the digital age. They are marching along continents and across geographic boundaries breaking down artificial government barriers, the most powerful audio-visual armies ever known.’ Within a few years, however, he would alter his militaristic metaphor and declare the computer to be the greatest nemesis of the film industry.   Valenti’s rather quick turn-around seems to be merely symptomatic of the schizoid relationship that cinema has had to technologies of reproduction. Every new technology of reproduction has resulted in euphoric possibilities about the extension of the life of the ‘immaterial commodity’ and the creation of new markets, while at the same time producing an acute crisis about the ease with which films can be pirated, thereby disrupting the planned march of cinema across the globe. This constant flitting between euphoria and crisis produces delirious effects in the world of law. In creating for itself a juridical form, cinema always seems to struggle against its own ephemeral form as well as the ‘thingliness’ of the medium that carries it. Even as more complicated systems of rights management and licensing in copyright law are created to ensure the smooth flow of films across the word, the ordered flow of cinema is constantly frustrated by technologies that enable the reproduction of a 20-million-dollar film on a 20-rupee CD.   Just as tobacco, cloth, alcohol and other petty commodities were central to the criminalization of everyday life in the 18th century, it seems that the definition of new forms of criminality in the late 20th and early 21st century belongs to the quotidian world of film consumption and circulation (Linebaugh, 2000). From region control of DVDs to the use of sniffer dogs to track pirated discs, piracy attests to the dynamic and opposing relations between the two major trends that define cinema in our time: the technological and the legal. While the former pushes towards the increasing range of possibilities in filmmaking and distribution, the latter pushes towards greater control and regulation of the media object (Mertha, 2005).   In an ongoing case in the Delhi High Court, the eight entertainment majors in ...

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