In Conversation With Anil Lale, General Counsel, Viacom18

In this exclusive conversation with editorial lead Krishnendra Joshi, BW Legal World, Anil shares about his illustrious journey in law. He also talks about his work as a General Counsel at Viacom 18, diversity and inclusivity, combating piracy and much more.

Anil, you started his career as a litigation lawyer and has appeared before trial courts, High Courts and various tribunals across states in India. When did you gravitate towards an inhouse role? 

When I was in my final year of law school back in 2002, I realised that more than 1500 new lawyers get enrolled every year in my state alone and these new lawyers had to compete for clients with lawyers who have more number of years of experience than the number of years in my age back then. So, it was important for me to carve out my own niche and to differentiate from the rest of the lawyers to make a mark. Incidentally the Copyright Act had undergone some major amendments in 1999 and I realised that even the professors who taught us did not have complete clarity on this subject as the syllabus was yet to be updated. So, I realised that Copyright is an emerging area in India and is yet to catch on and I have a level playing field here. So, it seemed like the right opportunity for me to create my niche.  This encouraged me to start looking for avenues to enter into practice of IP laws. However, during that time, litigations around Copyright were not substantial and even the creative industry had not woken up to this completely. So, while I did start my practice as a litigation lawyer, later on I started exploring in house roles which would give me more exposure in the area of Copyright.  So, since 2006 I have been in house with various media companies and this presented me a wide spectrum of experience in media. 

Who have been your mentors and role models in the legal industry? Who are the people that have helped you in shaping up your illustrious career in media and entertainment industry?

Instead of setting one role model, I aspire to learn from several people. I learned about management and leadership from the leaders who I have and are working with. I have and keep learning nuances about functions like business, finance, HR, admin, technology, PR etc.  from the various people who manages aspects of those functions. I believe everyone has some learning to offer if you are open to it.  I even learn from the youngest members of my team. As a lawyer it is important to keep learning, but as an in house counsel it is also important to keep reinventing yourself as the business landscape keeps changing and present new challenges. Media and Entertainment, especially is a VUCA world and it is important to avoid traditional, outdated approaches of management and leadership and embrace change. 

At Viacom18, you have been instrumental in setting up international distribution of channels and syndication of content across the globe. You also led the establishment of rights management system for the company. What does a day in your shoes look like? 

Viacom18 gave me the opportunity to dabble with various things including handling the launch of Colors in India and then internationally. International distribution and syndication back then was a green field for us and we had to establish relationships contractually and otherwise in each country. Also, establishment of the rights management system was inevitable as Copyright is the asset and product of a media company and rights management system is the inventory system for such rights. Anyway, this was in the past. Presently as General Counsel of the organisation, my role is more strategic and less operational. My day is normally filled with meetings with my team and other stakeholders on various issues. In the day, I reserve some time for updating myself on new events in the industry and analysing various legal aspects.  I also try and ensure that my learnings are transferred to the team. A uniform understanding of the team regarding nuances of law concerning business we cater is very important to ensure seamless operations. 

Would you say that companies are becoming increasingly sensitive about diversity and inclusion? What would be your suggestions for ensuring diversity and inclusivity in corporate legal teams?

Organisations in India are indeed becoming more sensitive on this subject. Presently more and more women are taking up in house legal careers. My team has a constitution of more than 50% women both in support and leadership positions. It also consists of people from all over the country. My suggestion for ensuring diversity and inclusivity is to take a conscious effort to identify talent, provide equal opportunity, acknowledge merit and reward excellence without any differentiation. Gender, race, nationality or sexual orientation should have no role to play in this. 

What are the challenges unique to working as a General Counsel in the media and entertainment industry?

You would have heard the phrase “The show must go on”. This is the phrase used in the entertainment industry since olden times. It means that regardless of what happens, whatever show has been planned still has to be staged for the patrons. This is the challenge unique to media and entertainment industry and especially for broadcast. The shows are produced on almost a real time basis and each show brings its own set of issues and legal tangles. The reaction time sometimes is not adequate and so lot of this has to be anticipated. So as a General Counsel of media and entertainment industry, you need to be prepared for battles which may never happen so that if one of those really happen, you can ensure that the show will still go on. 

What are the top three learnings for in house legal departments from the pandemic? 

The pandemic while it wreaked havoc, also gave way to some important learnings. Top three for me are:

  1. a legal team can also be paperless. 
  2. a legal team can be more efficient working from anywhere.
  3. even if there is no punch in, punch out or other control systems, employees will deliver what is required of them if they are given clear direction and trust. 

How did your team deal with pandemic induced escalation in digital piracy?

During the pandemic also our teams and vendors who track digital piracy has been very active in tracking and taking down pirated content online. Also, for many flagship properties, we procured dynamic injunctions from High Courts and used that to block websites/content links through ISPs. We also worked very closely with the Maharashtra Cyber Cell and was able to take down two big infringing aggregator platforms and was also able to bring the perpetrators behind the same before law.  

What are the potential solutions/strategies to curb the menace of piracy? How crucial is the need for government intervention and unity across the sector in this regard?

Piracy is evolving with technology and has reached a stage where a full-length feature film can simply be shared through a messenger application.  Also, the perpetrators of piracy normally operate from outside India and it is difficult and expensive proposition to curb this menace. So, the fight against piracy has to be on a real time basis and this cannot be achieved without the support of the government. For this, in my view the below are crucial:

  1. Introduce new provisions under Copyright Act for dealing with piracy by distinguishing it from infringement and providing for much more stringent punishments and making such offences non-bailable. 
  2. Introducing new provision under the Information Technology Act setting out process for issuing blocking orders by relevant authority against website and App where such website or App is predominantly making available infringing content. This will make the process smoother and reduce burden on courts.   

Creation of a nodal agency to act as relevant authority which has the powers to maintain Pirate Website List (“PWL”) and issue directions to ISPs and other intermediaries including App stores to block such websites and applications. This will help in taking the battle against piracy on to a real time basis. 

Also, the need of the day is to have administrative cooperation between countries to shut down Pirate operations and act against other forms of online piracy which originates from other countries.   This will help in reaching and stopping such perpetrators who operate from outside our country. 

What would be your message to aspiring and young in-house counsels who are looking to take up media and entertainment industry as an area of specialization

Being a lawyer in an inhouse role requires you to be not only a good lawyer but also equally competent in understanding business requirements and realities. I always keep evangelizing to my team that to be a good inhouse lawyer you should be able to interpret law, understand facts and marry it with the business realities. For this you need to understand law, the business you are catering to and the technology that supports the business. 

Media is a place where inhouse counsels gets to play a much larger role than in most of the other sectors. That is because the product and asset of a media house are all creations of Copyright Act.  Also, the monetization of these products which are cinematograph films, sound recordings, lyrics, compositions etc.   are highly dependent on how you as a lawyer negotiate the contracts. The real role as an in-house lawyer in media you play is when you are able to understand evolutions in technology and anticipate new business models that can come up in the future and with that understanding define and capture new rights in contracts. This will directly contribute to the bottom line of the company. 

What keeps you busy outside of work?    

Outside work, I focus on fitness as I believe that only a healthy body can cradle a healthy mind. As a lawyer, your biggest tool is a healthy mind which is devoid of clutter. I also am a motorcycle riding aficionado and set off on rides early in the mornings on Sundays. For me, riding is like moving meditation where each second your focus is always on the road and you need to take split second decisions. So, during this time, all other thoughts and worries are pushed out and you feel zen. I also love watching movies and shows in various languages. OTT space has now broken-down barriers of language and brings exciting international content to us.  This gives us the opportunity to experience different styles of storytelling. 

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