Indonesian sites offering pirated movie and TV content also feature ads from popular Indonesian brands and companies, suggesting that with enforcement absent, even well-established advertisers are not afraid of being associated with such illegal activities. (JG Photo/Nivell Rayda)

Now Playing: Indonesia's Piracy Problem Takes on a New Dimension Online

JULY 03, 2015

Indonesia has been consistently cited for intellectual property rights violations, with many in the country refusing to see movie piracy as a crime. (JG Photo/Nivell Rayda)

Like any filmmaker in this age of social media, Sheila Timothy went to Twitter to promote her latest feature-length movie, “Tabula Rasa,” shortly after it premiered to a nationwide audience last September.

Among the many congratulatory replies she received, there was one response that she still finds devastating. “Miss, can you share the link?” Sheila quoted the Twitter user’s reply.

The user, judging from the candidness of her question, may well be young and clueless to the fact that Sheila, a celebrated Indonesian filmmaker with three critically acclaimed movies under her belt, is also the chairwoman of the Indonesian Film Producers Association (Aprofi) and an avid campaigner against piracy.

Sheila tried to contain her anger and politely explained to the Twitter user that buying, downloading and streaming pirated movies is not just illegal but also immoral.

Making and distributing a movie requires months or even years of hard work involving hundreds of thousands of people whose jobs are dependent on the industry’s ability to make money, Sheila explained.

The Twitter user never replied back, perhaps out of embarrassment, but with piracy so rampant in Indonesia, the user likely didn’t have to wait for long to get a pirated copy of Sheila’s latest work.

“It takes 48 hours after a movie is released before we see a camcorder version spreading online. For a higher-definition version, people have to wait 24 hours after the DVD is released,” Sheila tells the Jakarta Globe.

And with theaters all over the world switching from film projectors to digital ones, making movies extremely vulnerable to illegal reproduction, the wait will be shorter still.

Smarter pirates

Indonesian filmmakers have been battling against piracy since the 1980s with the arrival of home video, but the impact is now worse than ever as pirated content – distributed through peer-to-peer downloading, streaming and direct download sites – dominate Indonesia’s burgeoning online landscape.

“Internet piracy has made it easy for the average people to become thieves,” says veteran film producer Chand Parwez Servia.

“Everyone is downloading [illegal content] and redistributing them on their YouTube accounts or websites. People no longer need an office or a [disk duplicating] machine to make money out of advertisements.

“The pirates have got a lot smarter so the government needs to be smarter too.”

Parwez, whose career in the film industry started out in the 1970s when he ran a chain of movie theaters in small West Java towns, knows firsthand the knock-on effect piracy has on the business.

“People see piracy as a tool to provide cheap entertainment. But because of piracy I had to shut down my theaters. For a small town like say Jati Barang [in West Java], a theater is a civic center. Many sidewalk vendors rely on people gathering and socializing there,” he says.

“After the theater closed down, the youths in Jati Barang had nowhere to go. So they turned to alcohol. By nine o’clock at night, a fight had already broken out, and by 10 someone had been killed.”

It is hard to put an estimate of how much potential revenue, both to the state and industry, is lost due to piracy, but for Parwez – whose production house Kharisma Starvision Plus has produced more than 100 films since it was founded in 1995 – the situation has deteriorated with the arrival of Internet piracy.

“Back in 2006, I was able to sell DVD rights to my movies for Rp 740 million [$55,600] each; now I’d be lucky to sell it for Rp 50 million. Think of the amount of tax revenue the government has lost all these years,” he says.

For Sheila, Internet piracy presents a new threat not posed by physical piracy. “We sell our movies based on territories and countries, but we can’t anymore because before we can sell them people all over the world have already watched them online,” she says.

‘Not a crime’

The demise of movie theaters in small towns like Jati Barang has created a vicious cycle, pushing up demand for pirated content due to the absence of legitimate alternatives.

“People in Indonesia, like anywhere else in the world, are drawn to pirated content because it’s cheap, and for those in remote areas it provides the only access to such films,” says Ari Juliano, an intellectual property lawyer and consultant.

But the one factor that makes piracy so rampant in Indonesia, Ari goes on, is that many Indonesians don’t see it as a crime. “Particularly with enforcement so weak and crackdowns occurring inconsistently and sporadically,” he says.

Convincing Indonesians that viewing and downloading illegal content is no different from theft is one narrative even the most seasoned filmmakers struggle to get across.

“Some people cling to this ‘Robin Hood’ view that piracy affects only a few wealthy Hollywood studios and famous international actors,” Neil Gane of the Motion Picture Association of America told the Globe in an e-mail.

Sheila says dozens of Indonesian producers under Aprofi, herself included, have been talking to students in schools and universities across Indonesia, explaining the threats that piracy poses to the industry. “Slowly, they’re getting the message,” she says.

Indonesian sites offering pirated movie and TV content also feature ads from popular Indonesian brands and companies, suggesting that with enforcement absent, even well-established advertisers are not afraid of being associated with such illegal activities. (JG Photo/Nivell Rayda)

Haven for piracy

But with the absence of stringent and consistent enforcement, along with double-digit growth in Internet connectivity, Indonesia has become a haven for online piracy, the International Intellectual Property Alliance wrote in its latest annual report on copyright protection and enforcement, released on Feb. 6.

Google searches of key words like “free movie streaming” and “free download” yield hundreds of thousands of results, with sites offering both camcorder and high-definition copies of the latest blockbuster films such as “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron” (released in Indonesia on April 22) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” (May 15).

Some operators even promote the content on social media platforms like Facebook, where users can ask the operators when a particular movie will be available to download or stream; or whether the movies featured are still the camcorder version or in high definition.

The discussion threads, in Indonesian, suggest that the users are well aware that the content being provided is pirated and the operators are offering their illegitimate services without fear of prosecution.

An investigation by the Globe into Indonesian sites offering such content found that the majority were hosted in countries like the United States and Canada, well beyond Indonesian authorities’ jurisdiction.

Some sites simply embed pirated content from external video-hosting sites, which is harder to trace and which allows them to more easily remove the illegal content before law enforcers can pin them down.

To further avoid lawsuits and prosecution, these sites offer disclaimers saying that “we only provide embedded content from foreign servers and we just import video metas from other sites. We not host or upload copyrighted content on our server.”

But the Globe’s investigation reveals that the exact same disclaimer (word for word, grammatical errors and all) is shared among at least 700 similar sites from all over the world.

The Indonesian sites also feature ads from popular Indonesian brands and companies, suggesting that with enforcement absent, even well-established advertisers are not afraid of being associated with such illegal activities.

The Globe tried to contact the sites’ owners and their advertisers repeatedly, but none responded to requests for an interview.

And it seems that everyone is in on the action. The pirated movies featured on all Indonesian sites have Indonesian subtitles, which can be traced back to, an Internet forum of movie translators.

The Globe examined the discussion threads on the online forum and identified that one particular translator had at least 100 movies under his belt, ranging from major Hollywood blockbuster films to Hong Kong action movies and South Korean dramas.

On one discussion thread, an Indonesian user even apologized, in Indonesian, for having his subtitles out of sync because “I’m busy with my school exams” – lending credence to producer Parwez’s theory that Internet piracy has turned the average person into a common thief.

IP task force

IP lawyer Ari says Indonesia has adequate intellectual property as well as information technology laws to stop the spread of pirated contents online. “The government can easily work with ISPs [Internet service providers] to block access to such sites,” he says.

But Parwez says the solution is not that simple. “Law enforcers always argue that they cannot act without us filing a formal complaint. The time we should be spending on making movies is wasted on fighting such crimes,” he says.

During a meeting in May with representatives of the music industry – another high-profile victim of online piracy – President Joko Widodo told National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti, also present, to get tough on Indonesia’s rampant piracy and copyright infringement problem.

“We need to start taking care [of the piracy issue] and this effort must be continuous,” Joko said. “We must be consistent if we want this problem to go away.”

The meeting resulted in the formation of a task force comprising representatives from the film and music industries, the police, the Directorate General of Intellectual Property at the Justice Ministry, the Communications and Information Technology Ministry, and the newly established Creative Economy Agency.

The team should, in theory, allow the government and law enforcers to act on the industries’ complaints and take swift action against piracy.

On Thursday, the justice and communications ministries announced that they were issuing two joint regulations on the protection of intellectual property rights. The first will regulate the banning of sites with pirated content, while the second will provide guidelines on the investigation of criminal cases linked to IP infringement.

But players in the film industry are skeptical that Joko’s task force will be any more successful than similar initiatives by his predecessors, who failed to gain enough momentum to reduce let alone eradicate piracy.

“We appreciate the political will […] but we want to see results first,” Sheila says of Joko’s promises.

In on the act

Yang Soeun of the Korean Film Council says she was shocked to discover that pirated DVDs were being sold so openly in shopping malls across Jakarta when she visited in May, around the same time the president made his speech.

“Even very new Korean content [was] there,” she says.

Under prevailing legislation in intellectual property rights, mall owners can face prosecution if vendors to whom they rent spaces are found selling pirated CDs, DVDs and software – a provision which the owners are trying to have quashed by the Constitutional Court.

The IIPA estimates that 90 percent of physical CDs, DVDs and software sold in Indonesia are pirated. But as online piracy grows, more and more Indonesians, at least in big cities like Jakarta, are turning to the Internet to find pirated content.

Streaming pirated movies “means I don’t have to go from store to store to find movies that I want to watch,” says one Jakarta resident who asked not to be identified. “I don’t even have to spend any money [to buy pirated physical DVDs] and worry about the disk skipping.”

The man claims that the only times he goes to the cinema are to watch blockbuster action or superhero movies and horror flicks to enjoy the full cinematic experience.

It’s this kind of attitude that has made cinema owners and film importers reluctant about bringing in award-winning dramas and independent films, or screening Indonesian films for more than two weeks, Indonesian theater owners and filmmakers have said.

With the number of Indonesians connected to the Internet growing from 71 million in 2013 to 83.7 million in 2014, the IIPA says that “significant opportunities exist for the launch of legitimate services for the distribution of copyright materials in Indonesia.”

“Unfortunately, with the absence of an adequate legal or enforcement framework up to the present, online and mobile piracy services have proliferated and legitimate services cannot enter this market rigged with piracy,” the alliance wrote.

Parwez says there have been numerous instances where businesses both local and foreign have approached his company offering new and legitimate business models to distribute movies online to the Indonesian market, only to change their minds later because piracy is so rampant here.

Gane of the MPAA says the only way forward is for Indonesia to emulate what is being done in other countries: step up its enforcement.

The Indonesian film industry and authorities must also dissuade intermediaries such as payment processors and advertising networks from dealing with such sites, he says, to ensure “that such piracy website operators cannot financially benefit from their illegal activity.”

If successful, “more people would watch films through legitimate means, and more revenue would flow into the industry,” he says. “This in turn would see greater investment in a wider range of quality films, and a better overall experience for audiences.”