PIRACY - A NATION OF THIEVES?
With movie piracy seemingly entrenched across Australian society as an
acceptable form of theft, the film industry’s watchdog is launching a new
campaign in early 2007, and amendments to legislation are beefing up the law to
try and change our mindset, as well as target the organised operators, reports
Andrew L. Urban.
With ordinary Australians – including a large chunk of youths between the ages
of 10 and 25 - responsible for stealing $233 million worth of movies and tv
shows last year, this nation of just over 20 million people has its collective
fingers in other people’s wallets. One disturbing aspect is that a large number
of the thieves are school children who steal with the active co-operation of
their parents, including lawyers, doctors, bankers and other middle class
professionals. A significant 23% of Australians aged 10 and over were involved
in copyright theft in 2005, mostly 16 – 24 year olds.
"nobody seems to think this is wrong"
But the single most disturbing aspect is that nobody seems to think this is
Both anecdotal information and research suggests that buying illegally copied
movies and tv shows (or burning them illegally from genuine DVDs, downloading
them from rogue websites) is generally regarded as a cool thing to do; the
pirated DVD is a frequent trophy of Asian holiday trips, and far from being
frowned on as morally weak, movie ‘pirates’ are actively encouraged by peer
group pressure across most age groups. (‘Pirates’ is a word with too many
romantic connotations – as in Pirates of the Caribbean - and many in the
industry want to see it dropped.) Research commissioned by AFACT (Australian
Federation Against Copyright Theft) showed that 92% of Australians, while
recognising that this type of piracy is a crime, do not consider it to be
A study on behalf of the film and tv industries by Bergent Research estimates
that nearly one in five Australians watched a movie on a pirate DVD last year –
before its cinema release. A report by L.E.K. Consulting, commissioned by the
Motion Picture Association, estimates that more than 47 million illegal copies
of movies on DVD were in circulation in Australia (as at April 2005), while
legal sales for the year totalled 52.3 million units. Most parents across all
demographics were found to do nothing to stop their children, indeed, many were
themselves involved directly or indirectly in movie theft, says Bergent’s
director, John Berenyi.
The matter is taken seriously enough by the Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, to
have put his weight behind moves to strengthen the Copyright Act as well as to
help educate Australians – especially younger ones – to recognise right from
wrong. Indeed, he attended AFACT’s launch of its new Copyright Or Copywrong
campaign on September 22 at a piracy forum in Sydney. “We must ensure that the
community knows what the laws are, how they operate and how consumers benefit
from copyright protection,” said Ruddock.
Among other things, the amendments to the Copyright Act (due to come into effect
on January 1, 2007) will give police and prosecutors a wider range of
enforcement options. For example, police will be able to issue on the spot fines
for first time offenders at street markets. On the other hand, police will be
able to take large scale operators to court and recover any proceeds of crime.
But can legislation change such a deep seated mind set?
The Copyright or Copywrong initiative to be launched early in 2007, developed by
AFACT in association with the film and TV industry, aims “to promote copyright
education and awareness to the Australian public through schools, work-places,
the community and law enforcement,” says AFACT’s Executive Director Adrianne
Pecotic. The program was developed in tandem with the Copyright Advisory Group
for the Ministerial Council on Employment, Education, Training and Youth
Affairs, led by Delia Browne, National Copyright Director.
"teaching awareness, understanding and respect for
“The objective of this initiative is to devise and test a program for
teachers and children across Australia to assist in teaching awareness,
understanding and respect for intellectual property through the creation by
school children of their own creative copyright works,” says Browne. “The
message we want to get across to children is when they can use others’ materials
legally, when they need permission and how to give permission to others to use
their material,” she added. The Copyright or Copywrong program, initially aimed
at 8 – 12 year olds, will explain copyright laws, explain the consequences of
copyright theft to the community and in general try and change attitudes to
encourage respect for copyright laws.
As Pecotic points out, children are not taught the rights and wrongs of
intellectual property from an early age in the same way they are taught about
respecting other people’s physical property.
Internet piracy accounted for the largest proportion of lost revenue in
Australia – estimated to be $92 million, followed closely by bootleg
(counterfeit) copies, which cost the industry $82 million. Another $59 million
was lost by thieves copying directly from genuine DVDs.
There are two kinds of movie thieves: the amateurs who buy 100 cheap DVDs in
Bali (or Thailand or any one of several Asian holiday destinations) or download
illegal copies and burn them in a peer group network. Because of their
widespread nature, even these activities impact on small businesses such as
local cinemas and video stores. One multi-store operator (who wishes to remain
anonymous for commercial reasons) said that he’d been steadily
retrenching staff - about 12 over some months - until the second Bali bombing on
October 1, 2005. “We didn’t realise what an impact those illegal DVD sales in
Bali were having. Within a week of the bombing, our rental turnover started to
rise and was up about 15% across all our stores – and has stayed there. About
half of the Australians who go to Bali are from Western Australia,” he says,
“and when they stopped going, our business improved and we are hiring again.”
At an estimated loss of $100,000 in annual rental turnover per video store, the
immediate impact of piracy is “not on Hollywood studios,” he says, “but on me,
my family and my staff.” The unthinking tourists are spreading their cheap
largesse amongst family and friends, in an ever widening circle of copyright
theft that hurts their neighbours.
This video store operator doesn’t believe “we should criminalise the whole
nation” over the issue and believes that “once Australians understand who they
are really hurting, they’ll say ‘OK, fair enough’….” His optimism is admirable,
but is it realistic?
Probably not, as far as youngsters are concerned, says Denis Parkes who runs the
Picture Show Man twin cinema in Merimbula on NSW’s South Coast, and is President
of the Independent Cinema Owners Association. “It’s a little bit naďve to think
that young kids could grapple with copyright issues. But the parents should
understand.” Even there, though, there are intrinsic, deep seated problems.
Parkes confronted one set of parents just back from Asia with DVDs “en masse … I
tried telling them it was wrong and illegal but it didn’t seem to get through.”
"in Asia it’s a great alternative to drug running –
with no death penalty"
As AFACT’s Adrianne Pecotic says, “illegal DVD copying offers a 1000% profit
margin.” And as Parkes points out, “in Asia it’s a great alternative to drug
running – with no death penalty.” In the Asia Pacific region, China leads the
way with 93% of potential revenue lost due to piracy, according to the L.E.K.
survey, followed by Thailand on 62%, Taiwan with 51% and India with 29%. But
Australia, at 11%, loses more than Hong Kong (9%) or Korea, which loses 7% - the
same as the US.
The high profit margins attract the second type of movie thief: the criminal,
often part of an organised group. As a general rule, copyright theft is just one
of the illegal activities in which they engage; pornography is associated with
traffickers in 95% of cases, says Pecotic. One illegal DVD titled on the sleeve
as the children’s film Racing Stripes seized at a market in Melbourne was found
to contain the X rated porn flick Deep Inside Keisha.
In a raid on a Blacktown store in July that netted more than 1,800 counterfeit
DVDs, two children under 10 were found behind the counter, despite pornography
that had been refused classification being clearly displayed. Their grandmother,
who is suspected by police of being an illegal immigrant, was taken into custody
and faces deportation.
To add injury to insult for taxpayers, criminals engaged in movie theft are
almost always (90%) also illegally receiving social security benefits, usually
In their quest for a cheap copy of a movie, some Australians engaging in
copyright theft are supporting organised crime, pornographers and drug dealers,
at the expense of their fellow Australians – including filmmakers whose stolen
works are sold at flea markets from all over Asia to Melbourne - and anywhere
else. Pecotic has a little pink plastic bag of recently acquired illegal
samples: in Pakistan in September she picked up a copy of Kokoda; in Bangkok at
the Pantip market in May this year, she collected illegal copies of Wolf Creek,
Look Both Ways, The Proposition, Ned Kelly and the ABC TV series Kath and Kim.
Published November 30, 2006
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A raid in a Pakistan market finds copies of Kokoda (among others)
Pirated copies of Wolf Creek with dreadful cover art
Look Both Ways - illegal copies in Bangkok
The Proposition - illegal copies in Bangkok