• United States



by Paul Kerstein

Thai Bust Fails to Dent Illegal Disc Market

Nov 18, 20055 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

A raid on an illegal CD producer early this month netted the Royal ThaiPolice 91 CD-R burners, capable of producing over 13 million [M]pirated music, software or video CDs per year, and 24,000 discs.Despite the sizable catch, CD sales in tourist areas of the nation wereunaffected, and the Motion Picture Association conceded the raid didlittle to disrupt the bootleg CD distribution network.

“The seizure of 24,000 discs, while representing a very good day’swork, also represents a small fraction of the problem,” said MikeEllis, Asia-Pacific regional director of the Motion Picture Association(MPA), in an e-mail interview.

Last year, the MPA investigated more than 25,500 cases of piracy in theAsia-Pacific region and assisted law enforcement officials inconducting nearly 12,000 raids that resulted in the seizure ofapproximately 49 million illegal optical discs, Ellis said. Tens ofmillions of additional pirated discs were taken by police in raidswhere the MPA wasn’t involved. “Seen in that light, 24,000 discs doesnot make much of a dent on the supply-demand equation,” he said.

The Nov. 4 raid was Thailand’s largest this year and one of its largestever, but its failure to even slow the flood of illegal movies, games,software and music available on city streets highlights the size of thepiracy problem, which the MPA estimates costs its members nearly US$1billion each year in the Asia-Pacific region. Even more troubling, thepiracy problem is spreading to other industries — like medicines,which can endanger people because they don’t work.

Over the past few years, officials in Asia have shut down gangs thathave produced low-quality copies of other items that could be extremelydangerous, such as auto brake pads and airplane parts.

In a new commercial aired in Taiwan this week, action film stars ArnoldSchwarzenegger and Jackie Chan challenge viewers to “terminate” themovie piracy problem before the purchase of illegal CDs and DVDs givescriminals the financing they need to produce bootleg medicine and otherpotentially life-threatening objects.

But it’s tough to determine the impact such commercials — and policeraids — are having on consumer appetites. In the tourist district ofPatong Beach in Phuket, Thailand last week, sales of a range of items,including fake Rolexes and Louis Vuitton purses alongside the latestHollywood and Bollywood movies appeared to be brisk.

“During the high [tourist] season, I can sell several thousand movies aweek,” said one stall owner, who’s booth was stocked with thousands oftitles, including films still in theatres such as the “Lord of War” and”Jarhead.” Disc prices in the market ranged from 80 Thai baht (US$1.94)to 120 baht.

The high season for tourism in Thailand starts in November and lastsinto the new year, when tourists from around the globe flock to thecountry’s pristine beaches. One group of four travelers picked up over30 bootleg DVD movies each from one stall, and said they’d probably getmore before they left the country.

The pirate-movie stall owners near Patong Beach keep their operationssimple to avoid the authorities. Generally, they put out lists of movietitles or music CDs and let customers choose what they want. Then, arunner sets off to fetch the actual discs from a hidden cache nearby.Sometimes, the sellers take customers to their back-room areas,normally an apartment or a secret room at the back of a shop, where theCDs and DVDs are stored to hurry the sales process along.

The MPA’s Ellis said police in many countries can’t afford to raidtourist areas. “As in many countries, Thailand’s law enforcementagencies aim their necessarily limited resources largely atmanufacturing rather than retail distribution, for the primary reasonthat 91 burners have an annual capacity of more than 13 million discs,”he said.

That’s one reason why many developed countries, and the MPA, focustheir efforts on educating consumers. For example, Australia has made amajor effort to educate returning travelers about copyright theft, andthe MPA plays anti-piracy trailers on Qantas Airways Ltd. flights.

“It’s clear that the key to winning the anti-piracy war will beeducating people about the value of intellectual property, and teachingrespect for copyrights,” said Ellis.

It’s not an easy battle and the consequences for the global movieindustry can be severe. Lost revenue from disc piracy almost sank HongKong’s film industry earlier this decade. Last year, the industry thatcreated the kung-fu genre and made stars out of Bruce Lee and JackieChan only produced 64 features and brought in revenue of US$57 million,according to the Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Motion PictureIndustry Association. Although It was the Hong Kong industry’s bestyear in the past three, the profits are a far cry from the mid-1990swhen Hong Kong’s movie industry ranked third in the world and produced300 movies per year.

By Dan Nystedt – IDG News Service (Taipei Bureau)