Filmmakers Cry Foul, Charge U.S. With Piracy

While the U.S.-China squabbles over Chinese copyright infringement had been making international headlines until a recent settlement, Arab film producers were wondering when the U.S. is going to clean up its own act.

The Egyptian Film Producers’ Union complains that virtually all Arabic movies in vid release in the states are stolen, and that the U.S. is the world’s worst offender in piracy of Arabic-lingo films.

Most of the piracy is centered in such cities as New York, Detroit and Los Angeles, which have large Arab immigrant communities.

Losses may be small potatoes compared with the near $1 billion Washington claims is lost by American companies each year in China due to piracy of movies, music and computer software. But it’s still a heavy helping to Arab filmmakers who say they are watching their potential royalties disappear at the hands of vid buccaneers in the U.S.

The film producers’ union says that total annual losses to vid pirates in the U.S. are impossible to calculate, but it estimates that each pirated film loses between $150,000 and $300,000 in potential legit U.S. vid sales – substantial coin when the current average cost of producing an Egyptian film is about $300,000.

If the union’s estimates are correct, they would easily translate into tens of millions of dollars in piracy losses considering that Egypt’s 60-year-old film industry has made up to 100 titles a year. Even today, many old movies with such now-deceased Arab film stars and Anwar Wagdi, Farid el Atrash, and the legendary Egyptian songstress Oum Kalsoum remian perennial faves among Arabic-speaking auds.

Egyptian producer Youssef Francis said that on a recent visit to L.A. he found all eight of his films on sale in Arabic specialty vid shops – and all pirated.

Film producers have complained to the American embassy in Cairo about the theft, but apparently to little avail.

“We tell them to hire an American copyright lawyer,” said a U.S. diplomat.

“I don’t have the time or money to pursue this problem through (U.S.) legal channels by myself,” Francis complained, “and neither does any other Egyptian film producer.”

“The Americans are anxious to protect their own interests, but they don’t seem to care a damn about anybody else’s,” said producer-distributor Yossri Ashmawi, head of Cairo’s Karnak Intl. Films.

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