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MPAA pledges to keep heat on piracy in Asia

Org focus on new technologies

HONG KONG — The Motion Picture Assn.’s antipiracy advocate in Asia admitted that the industry botched the battle against illegal VCDs but intends to learn from its mistakes with the newer technologies, such as DVD.

“We didn’t adapt,” said Mike Ellis, regional director of the association that represents the majors’ interests overseas. “We have a lot of catching up to do. We don’t want to get behind the ball on new technologies.”

Ellis, formerly with the Hong Kong police, told participants at the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Assn. of Asia conference this week that 4 million illegal VCDs were seized in 1997. That number rose to 48 million a year later with no additional officers on the job.

He put association member losses at $531 million in 1998 due to copyright infringement.

“We have to get up to speed on the Internet,” Ellis said, “but we still will have to knock down doors.”

‘Asian Menace’

Ellis outlined the scenario that saw “Star Wars: Episode I,” which he called “The Asian Menace,” open in the U.S. on May 19 and find its way into Asia’s pirate shops in a matter of days. He said three different pirated VCD versions of the film were first available in Malaysia on May 22.

Days later they were on sale in Singapore, followed by Hong Kong, China and other countries around the region.

With the highly publicized crackdowns on illegal VCD factories in Hong Kong and China, the trade moved to Malaysia, Ellis said. But now, with tougher new legislation going into effect there, he said the factories are already relocating to Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Thailand.

DVDs tougher to pirate

Molly Kellogg, Warner Bros.’ veep for antipiracy and new markets in Hong Kong, has been tracking the pirated versions of DVDs. She said the technology was launched 2-1/2 years ago but pirated versions began appearing only in the past year.

And so far just 300 DVD titles are available in bootleg versions compared with thousands of titles on VCD.

“Replicating DVDs is very difficult,” Kellogg said. “So pirates will wait for sufficient hardware penetration.”

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