After a stagnant 1993-94, figures for the Italian homevideo industry show a slight upswing despite a thriving parallel market in bootlegged cassettes.

With VCR sales leveling off – there are currently about 9 million in Italy – homevideo trade association Univideo reports a 9.8% increase in revenues over the last available numbers, for a total of $250 million. Rentals, which account for 22.4% of the market, dipped by 6.7% while the sell-through sector climbed 15.8% to $194 million.

Despite a slow decline, piracy is still the industry’s major enemy. Recent figures indicate that illegal sales account for 40% of the market, costing the industry $312 million and the government $75 million in lost tax revenue. Some 80% of vid retailers and outlets are thought to be involved in some form of illicit activity.

FAPAV (the Italian audio-visual antipiracy federation) has been in the forefront in the battle against piracy since 1988. According to Luciano Daffarra, FAPAV secretary general, “above all, we must be able to obtain and enforce sentences and fines, especially against large organized piracy rings operating in bulk quantities.”

“Operation Hollywood” in northern Italy nabbed 17,000 cassettes, with charges brought against 78 individuals. Raids during one week in February netted more than 1,400 VCRs, 15,000 cassettes

and 571 masters. In 1994 alone, close to 700,000 counterfeit cassettes were confiscated by law enforcement agencies and charges were brought against 6,400 individuals.

Antipiracy legislation calls for severe sentences, suspension of operating licenses and store closures for guilty retailers. An outspoken antipiracy activist, media magnate Vittorio Cecchi Gori also has presented a bill to Parliament providing for the creation of a special authority to coordinate law enforcement and judicial activities.

Cecchi Gori would also like to see the current homevid window reduced from eight to four months after a film’s theatrical release. Some 65% of illicit homevideo trade is for firstrun features.

Though legislation, investigation and stiffer sentences may reduce the rate of piracy, antipiracy advocate Bianca Pupella feels the best way to stomp out piracy is by eliminating access to source materials, particularly prints and masters. Through her company, Video & Movie, Pupella has been offering a print protection/antipiracy service to theatrical distribs for the past 18 months.

Under Pupella’s system, a frame of each print is encoded with a mark identifying the print and the lab where it was processed. At the same time, the lab brands each print with a separate mark. Prints are secured with a numbered seal that must remain intact until it reaches the theater.

Costs for the service are low: each print is secured for $6.25, with an additional $78 for the reusable shipping container.

Buena Vista Intl. used the system for “The Lion King” and Pupella claims no pirated cassettes turned up during the film’s initial release. Disney pics are among the most heavily pirated in the industry.

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