The one with the Friends reunion piracy

09 June 2021

The one with the Friends reunion piracy Image credits: TV Insider

The recently-concluded “Friends'' reunion was one of the most-watched specials in all of history. People from all over the world flocked to watch beloved characters Rachel, Ross, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Monica retell all their fond memories from the show. Naturally, given the massive popularity of the show, procuring a license to air the same was on cards by almost all the video content platforms.

In China, the platforms Tencent, iQiyi, and Youku were successful in obtaining the license to stream the much-awaited episode. However, owing to the massive fan-following that the show has garnered in China and across the world, the controversy stirred when the uncensored pirated version of the show was uploaded on Bilibili, a Chinese video-sharing website. All the three streaming platforms that secured the license for the show released statements calling out Bilibili, stating that the blatant act of piracy was carried out by disrespecting the intellectual property held by the creators of the show and the agreement-based license to broadcast that was granted to Tencent, iQiyi, and Youku by the creators and rightful owners of the Intellectual Property. It was also stated that the same undermines the interests of both the content creators as well as the “broadcasting – rights” holders.

In addition, the parts of the episode wherein the celebrities BTS, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber appeared were censored from the released episode due to political reasons. As the news has it, allegedly all these celebrities have insulted China in some or another way and the government and authorities in China had held that no content or information related to them will be broadcasted or shown in China. To name one instance, Justin Bieber is banned from performing in China due to his “bad behaviour”, as cited by the Ministry of Culture, China.

Presently, all the video clips relating to “Friends” have been taken down, and there is no content when searching for the key word “friends”.

“The crackdown on infringement of video clips has been intensified, while at the platforms like Bilibili, the content ecology is dominated by user-initiated clips, of which there is no shortage of pirated content,” says Yang Mingming, Partner, Wanhuida Intellectual Property China. “In the long run, this part of the copyright "landmine", becomes a potential threat to Bilibili.”

He adds, “In fact, in early April of this year, more than 70 film and television media companies issued a joint statement on the protection of film and television copyrights, saying that they will take a concentrated and necessary legal action against the editing, cutting, handling and dissemination of the content of film and television works without authorization on Internet. On April 28th, The State Film Bureau announced that the State Film Bureau would work with the National Copyright Administration to strengthen its efforts to crack down on infringement of movie copyrights by short video platforms, self-media and public accounts, and to protect the legitimate rights and interests of movie copyright holders.

Further, since June 1, the newly revised Copyright Law has come into force, and. Although the law has not changed much on how to determine the copyright infringement, the maximum amount of the statutory damage has been increased from 500,000 to 5 million.”

For Mudit Kaushik, Counsel, ZeusIP Advocates LLP, blockbuster sitcoms have amassed a great amount of fan following, which means that these sitcoms have great power to generate revenues for video platforms by different means such as subscriptions and advertisement.

“Having said the same, when artistic content [herein the much-talked F.R.I.E.N.D.S episode] is loved vastly and has such a massive fan following, keeping the same exclusive for commercial success becomes highly pertinent,” It will also not be out of place to point out that copying content when one is not legally authorized to do is unethical and unlawful. With the growth of OTT platforms, internet viewership and easy accessibility to clips of content across the world, it is a very tough job for a creator and owner to protect their proprietary property from infringement and misuse.”

He adds that ultimately, all content is created for commercial purposes or for encashing on the content, its story, its star cast, its popularity, among others,  and unauthorised use by any third party which does not eventually benefit the creator is a violative act and must be cured.

“The commercialisation of Intellectual Property in a rightful manner so it benefits the appropriate party is an absolute requirement and is the end goal of protecting one's Intellectual Property,” he says.

To protect such online platforms, Vasundhara Shankar, Managing Partner, Verum Legal, says that while copyright laws are different for each country, the concept of copyright and its protection remains, broadly, the same.

“There is no beating around the bush with the fact that there is no straight-jacket formula or remedy available to eradicate piracy in any jurisdiction of the world,” she says.  “Some of the countries do have strict domestic law against piracy and the same clearly layout fines and allied punishments. Also, it is easy in some countries to directly move to a Court/Tribunal against the infringers and in fact, even against third-party websites hosting the pirated content or circulating links of the platforms wherein such pirated content is available. With easy access, vast reach and greater exposure, it has become increasingly easier for third parties to violate the rights of the creator, which must be protected at all costs through more stringent legislations.”


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