NRI’s device stirs legal fight with TV giants in US

WASHINGTON: It is the size of a postage stamp, but is being described as an invention that could topple titans. Indeed, the titans have all ganged up together to stamp out the little guy who has challenged them, dragging him all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which will hear the case this coming April. Little guy is unfazed.

Having fended them off and won in lower courts, Chaitanya (“Chet”) Kanojia is looking forward to the day the US Apex Court will hear case no 13-461 involving the Goliaths, ABC, NBC, Fox et al. v Aereo Inc, his nifty two-year old company that he sees as the David in this battle. He says can’t imagine the court won’t be on the side of such a consumer-friendly innovation he’s provided

Even accounting for the constant flow of disruptive technologies that is the life-blood of innovation, what Bhopal-native Kanojia has done has shaken the American broadcast industry to its nearly century-old roots. Simply put, the stamp-sized antenna from his company Aereo lets you watch regular TV on any device – such as a phone or tablet or laptop – without lugging around an antenna or set-top box or any of the wire and cables that comes with the current system. For a few bucks a month, it even lets you record shows for later viewing with cloud-based DVR
For long suffering victims of broadcast monopolies who are saddled with scores of useless channels and bills running up to $100 a month, what’s not to love in this cord-cutting, TV-on-the-go exercise, where Aereo’s antennas just pick up signals off the air?

Well, for one, there’s a small matter of copyright infringement, argued the consortium of 17 broadcasting giants ranging from Disney’s ABC to Comcast NBC to 21st Century Fox. They maintained that Aereo was a threat both to their business model, by undermining the cable re-transmission fees, and the size of their audience. While copyright law lets individuals watch anything they pick up by antennas as long as it is for their private use, broadcasters maintained that Aereo’s transmissions constitute a “public performance” that requires Aereo to pay for retransmitting them. But the courts, including a federal appeals court have ruled that Aereo’s streams to subscribers were not “public performances,” and thus did not constitute copyright infringement. The ruling shook the broadcast industry that has enjoyed a stranglehold on the transmission business even with the advent of the Internet. Many of them are now considering taking themselves off the air and converting themselves to a cable-only channel, saying they can’t sit by and have their signals stolen. For Kanodia’s cheerleaders, it is a sign of pique by Big Broadcast, which like Big Pharma, finds the big profits it has long enjoyed as a powerful monopoly challenged by the little guy.

The story goes that two years ago when Kanojia first started his company, he visited the offices of the four big broadcast television networks to tell them about his plan to upend their business and strike a deal.
Their response: We’ll see you in court. Now, with victories in the lower courts, the 43-year old Indian disrupter is ready to topple a legacy business which he sees as predatory and having feasted on the system since the 1970s.

Indian-origin producer Anant Singh, who is based in South Africa, hopes his Oscar-nominated biopic “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” on the anti-apartheid icon will nspire Indian moviegoers

Made for $35 million (Rs.219 crore), the film enjoyed record-breaking success in South Africa and has till now earned over 22 million rand ($2 million/Rs.12 crore).

“The film has performed well in the United Kingdom where it was released two weeks ago. As Indians have displayed a special affinity for Nelson Mandela, the freedom of our people and our country, I am hopeful that the Indian film-going audience will embrace the film and be inspired by it,” Anant Singh told IANS in an email interaction from Durban.

The film, which has won this year’s Oscar nomination for best original song – for “Ordinary love’ by U2 – has done well in South Africa.

“In South Africa, the film has emerged as the highest grossing biopic and grossed over 22 million rand,” Anant Singh said.

“It has outgrossed the entire run of the multiple Oscar-winning biopics ‘The King’s Speech’, ‘The Iron Lady’, ‘Lincoln’, ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘A Beautiful Mind’, ‘Ray’, and ‘Gandhi’.

“Also, it has outpaced Oscar winners ‘Walk The Line’, ‘Evita’ and ‘Elizabeth’ and multiple Oscar nominees ‘Ali’ and has earned twice as much as ‘Invictus’,” added the producer, who had co-produced the Shyam Benegal-directed film “The Making Of The Mahatma” (1996).

Directed by Justin Chadwick, “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” showcases the icon’s life as a lawyer, anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician-cum-activist who was elected the president of South Africa in 1994.

The movie, which stars Idris Elba in the title role and Naomie Harris as his wife Winnie, hit the Indian screens Friday.

The producer, who has made about 80 films, first visited India in the early 1990s to present some of his films at the International Film Festival of India.

“I have been able to develop strong relationships with people in the film industry as well as in business and government; among them are (Bollywood megastar) Amitabh Bachchan, (choreographer) Shiamak Davar, and a host of others,” said Anant Singh, whose great grandfather moved to South Africa from India in 1877.

Amitabh had also shown support to the Indian premiere of “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” held in Mumbai recently.

It took almost two decades for the film to be made, but Anant Singh’s chest is swollen with pride.

“Making an independent film, with a $35 million budget is very challenging. I promised Mr. Mandela that I will make the film to the best of my ability and that it may take a while. The film had to tell his story well,” he said.

Anant Singh wanted to make the film when everything – script, team et al – was in place and when he was confident that he “could do justice to his story”.

“All of these elements came together in 2011 and here we are today. I am extremely proud of how the film has turned out. I had developed a personal relationship with Mr. Mandela after his release from prison, and I was humbled when he chose me to be the custodian of the film rights of his autobiography. With it came great responsibility,” he added.

Indians a rising force in California politics

When Neel Kashkari announced he was running for governor last week, he became the latest Californian of Indian descent to step onto the political stage, the most recent example of a rising trend in one of America’s most ethnically diverse states.

Kashkari is part of a surge of second-generation Indians emerging in politics, despite their relatively small population in California.

While Sikh Californians have been farming in California’s Central Valley for nearly a century, the last couple of decades have brought a wave of technology workers and entrepreneurs into Silicon Valley, where they have formed a tight-knit, supportive and financially successful community.

Tapping into that donor base will be key to the Republican Kashkari’s campaign, even if many donors will have to cross party lines to support him.

The growing roster of candidates and elected officials of Indian descent includes Democrat Ami Bera, a doctor who holds a Sacramento-area congressional seat; Democrat Ro Khanna, who is challenging for another in the San Francisco Bay Area; Vanila Singh, a Republican who recently announced she is entering the same Bay Area race; and Republican Ricky Gill, who attracted millions of dollars from Indian-Americans in the Central Valley before losing a tight congressional race two years ago.

San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon was elected vice-chairwoman of the California Republican Party last year, while Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose mother was from India, is the highest-profile California officeholder with Indian ancestry.

“It symbolises the changing face of California,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political science professor at the University of California, Riverside and director of the National Asian American Survey. “Even though Latinos are the largest nonwhite group in the state, there’s room for other communities to also break through.”

Latinos are about 40 percent of California’s 38 million residents and have a solid record of exercising their political muscle. By comparison, Indians make up less than 2 percent of the population, or about 638,000, according to the 2010 US Census.

There is a long Sikh history in the Central Valley, where Kash Gill is mayor of Yuba City and Sonny Dhaliwal is mayor of Lathrop, in San Joaquin County.

But many other Indian immigrants are more recent, and it is their US-born children who are now bounding into politics, Ramakrishnan said.

Aam Aadmi Party’s NRI helpline dries up

NEW DELHI: The Congress hand continues to support the Aam Aadmi Party, but the foreign hand that funds the party liberally is beginning to pull back. A growing number of Non- Resident Indians (NRIs) living in New Zealand, Australia and the United States are so annoyed with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) over its style of governance and recent actions that they are now actively campaigning against it on Facebook.

The Facebook group started by these NRIs is called: “I Am Sorry I Voted For AAP”. The anti-AAP page has under a hundred followers now, but the impact on the NRI funding pipeline is huge. Most of the NRI contributors to AAP have been giving lakhs of rupees at a time, making their kind a lifeline for the new political outfit.

It’s going to hurt. The six days starting January 15, since Law Minister Somnath Bharti’s now infamous midnight raid, have seen the party receive less money in donations than any other day since December 12. Before January 15, the party was receiving donations from NRIs in excess of Rs 10 lakh a day, but over the past week the party has received amounts only in the thousands or even less from foreign contributors.

The party received Rs 21 lakh as donation on December 28, when they formed the Delhi. Following that, the party was getting donations in excess of Rs 40 lakh every day. The average daily donation after January 17 is Rs 6 lakh; between January 2 and 16 the daily donations were more than six times that.

“They have done no governance since they stepped into power. Rather, the party has only engaged in activities which are meaningless and not a matter of priority. Every step this government has taken in the past month is for their own political gains and has done nothing for the betterment of the people living in the Capital. We thought that they are the change we need, but instead they are worse than the existing political parties,” Ellapparaj Ravi, an NRI from New Zealand and founder of the Facebook page told Mail Today. Ravi and his family donated in excess of Rs 4 lakh to the party before the Delhi Assembly elections last year.

The Facebook page has 82 members who feel the same way and are apologizing to the people of Delhi who they had supported and influenced to vote for AAP. “We establish this page to show our regrets for voting AAP in a recent election. We apologize to rest of the Indian Aam Aadmi for our serious mistake,” the page reads. According to Ravi, every one of these 82 members has donated in large amounts to AAP.

“Not only had we (his family) donated Rs 2 lakh to AAP before their elections, but more importantly, my family living in Delhi had gone out of their way to support and campaign with their local AAP candidate to ensure his victory. But every step the party has taken since they have come into power is to showboat and gain media coverage, while youngsters continue to be unemployed, electricity bills are still sky- high and Delhiites struggle for water,” Alagappan, another NRI living in Hamilton, New Zealand said.

Adding to that, Nagendra Krishna Ramachandran, presently working in Pennsylvania, US, revealed that he had convinced his family in Tamil Nadu to donate money for AAP, despite the party not supporting the protesters against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant project.

“It is tragic that after all the revolutionary phase in Indian politics that we witnessed, we’ve ended up electing buffoons all over again,” he said. His friend Venkataramani Govindasamy, whose family lives in South Delhi’s Alaknanda apartments said: “My parents want me to come back to Delhi to set up a business worth millions, but after witnessing the political satire in the Capital I am weary of leaving my permanent resident status in Australia and coming home.”