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PIRACY AUSTRALIA 2003

THEY’VE LANDED & THE FIGHT HEATS UP
As legislation is enacted this week to increase penalties for illegal parallel importing of films, the fight against film & video piracy in Australia heats up with the first raids against pirate duplication operations on Australian soil. The estimated annual cost of piracy to the Australian film and video industries is $100 million, with negative impacts on employment, tax revenue – and you. Andrew L. Urban reports.


At the first media and industry screening of X-Men 2 a couple of weeks ago in Sydney (April 23, 2003), physical security checks like those at airports were in place, and mobile phones had to be left outside, in an effort by 20th Century Fox to cut the risk of piracy of the much anticipated film. It was a potent sign that film piracy is active, innovative and pervasive. The industry sees the pirates as thieves who deprive the creators, producers and distributors of their rightful rewards; and it’s fighting back. In 2000, less than 6,000 unauthorised copies were seized by police throughout Australia; last year they seized more than 87,000.

"significant and organised film/DVD pirate duplicators"

Within the past month, piracy investigators and police raids have uncovered the first signs of significant and organised film/DVD pirate duplicators on Australian soil (as distinct from pirated copies imported to Australia from Asia). Raids in Sydney and Melbourne were both prompted by sales of pirated DVDs at local street markets. These illegal copies lead investigators to secret duplication facilities, one of which was hidden in the roof cavity of a house.

The raid in Sydney’s Western suburbs on April 10 initially failed to reveal any illegal activity until the ceiling manhole in the laundry was examined. It was then discovered that the ceiling timbers had been covered by flooring and a large workbench constructed, and exhaust fans had been fitted to the roof. 

At least 7 DVDR burners were seized together with a number of CDR burners as well as 3 printer machines, 2 colour photocopiers, 2 laptop computers, paper cutters and finished labels and sleeves. There were approximately 90 film titles on DVD format labelled "master discs, not to be sold" together with 700 finished DVDRs and 800 CDRs packaged for distribution with 700 VCDs similarly packaged - believed imported from Asia. Another 2,000 blank DVDRs and 3,400 DVD cases were also located.

In Melbourne, Victoria State Police raided retail premises and a residence in the suburbs of Newcomb and Hoppers Crossing, seizing both replication equipment and illegal discs.

"the result of inquiries and surveillance"

Stephen Howes, director of the Australian Film & Video Security Office (AFVSO), says the raid was the result of inquiries and surveillance by agents over the previous three months. "It can be looked upon as a major breakthrough in DVD piracy in Australia, not only from a local replication aspect, but also importation and
distribution from Asia."

Among the property taken away by the police were an eight stack DVD burning unit, which had been imported from overseas, together with DVD burners in at least two computers and a disc label printing machine attached to the 8 stack burner, which automatically printed and attached labels as the DVDs were finished.

Other property seized included approximately 4,000 finished DVD-Rs and imported DVDs, a number of spindles containing blank DVD-Rs, four DVD players, illegal PlayStation software and monitors and approximately $3,000 in cash.

The success of these raids demonstrate the determination of the industry to crack down on video pirates, and is underscored by the enactment this week (on May 13) of new legislation that increases penalties for parallel importation, as well as making proof of copyright easier to establish for genuine businesses.

The legislation has increased the penalty for parallel imports of films from $60,500 per offence to $71,500 and/or 5 years imprisonment, or $357,500 for a corporation. 

Other amendments to the Copyright Act relieve some of the previously burdensome requirements to prove basic copyright subsistence. Markings on the films or casing and or foreign certificates are now acceptable as prima facia evidence, which will act as an encouragement to police to take action; previously, the proof of copyright was so complicated it acted as a deterrent. 

"it reinforces the seriousness of these types of offences"

Welcoming the changes, Howes says "These amendments should allow cases to proceed more quickly through the courts. At the present time there are over 50 cases awaiting trial, some are from raids nearly two yeas ago. With regard to the increased fines for parallel imports, I believe it reinforces the seriousness of these types of offences and those retailers who have previously ignored warnings should be aware of the consequences.” 

Howes says a Western Sydney retailer is being charged in relation to over 800 imported DVDs and copied DVDs that were seized by police during a raid on March 31 this year. “Pirates don’t pay taxes, their activities threaten jobs and they tend to send funds overseas,” effectively stealing from the entire Australian community. 

Reflecting the industry’s anger over piracy, Howes says “People who buy cheap copies might feel they are getting a bargain, but in reality they are ripping off the industry and ultimately depriving themselves of high quality local films.” It’s receiving stolen goods, really.

He says the first raids against actual duplication operators was a disturbing sign that the illegal trade in pirated films was becoming more widespread and sophisticated in this country. 

People should refuse illegal rip-offs, he told media at the supervised destruction on April 2, 2003 of more than 30,000 DVDs and CDRs that were seized by Australian Federal Police in a major operation last year. The illicit haul, weighing around 2,500kg and worth more than $750,000 on the streets, was crushed at a specialist destruction facility in Melbourne. But the fine was only $40,000.

"DVD piracy is theft"

“DVD piracy is theft and the people who take part in this illegal trade are thieves,” Howes says. In fact, as the Motion Picture Association (the body representing Hollywood’s major studios and the body that funds the AFVSO) points out, video piracy is linked to organised crime. Howes estimates that the profit margins on some pirated DVDs is higher than on heroin.

For more information and/or to report suspicious/illegal activity, call the AFVSO on Freecall 1 800 251 996. 

Published May 15, 2003

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