Asian piracy thrives

Valenti finds Vietnam, Hong Kong trouble spots

WASHINGTON — Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy Jack Valenti expected to find video piracy thriving in Asia, but he was a little surprised to discover, during his just-concluded trip there, that the Vietnamese government is in the business of distributing unauthorized works.

Valenti confronted Vietnamese officials with a pirated copy of “101 Dalmatians” clearly emblazoned with the acronym for Vietnam’s official arts agency. “They really had no rebuttal to that,” Valenti said Monday. The MPAA topper is back in Washington after a two-week trip that took him to China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The major U.S. studios lose up to $1.5 billion annually to Asian copyright pirates, according to Valenti. During his tour, he stopped at one mall where he was able to purchase three pirated DVDs for a total of $6. Two of three DVDs he purchased, “Starship Troopers” and “Flubber,” had not even been released yet in Asian theaters.

Valenti said the store where he purchased the pirated material had been raided 173 times, but in each case the owner spent little more than 20 minutes in court. That’s why Valenti urged Asian officials he met with to raise the stakes when it comes to violating piracy laws. “You’ve got to put people in jail,” said Valenti.

As much as the movie industry loses to copyright pirates each year, the software industry is taking an even bigger hit. Valenti hopes to join forces with Microsoft and other software companies in an effort to build a broader coalition to combat copyright infringement in Asia.

Although Hong Kong had not been a major source for creating and distributing unauthorized material in the past, pirates are increasingly making their home there, according to Valenti. The growth of piracy in Hong Kong may be the result of successful efforts to counter piracy in China, Valenti said.

During his stop in Beijing, Valenti spent much of his time trying to pry open the Chinese market to major U.S. distributors. Although Chinese officials deny it, Valenti insists that there is an annual quota that limits the major studios to a total of 10 releases in China. In addition to expanding releases, Valenti hopes that China will open its market to U.S. investment in the construction of movie theaters.

Valenti is already planning his next visit to China, which he expects to take place sometime in March.

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