Magistrates asked to impose stiff fines, jail sentences

SYDNEY — The Motion Picture Assn. and Australia’s film and video industries are joining forces to stem the rising tide of DVD piracy, which is costing the industry A$65.5 million ($35 million) Down Under.

Video piracy accounts for about 7% of the legit trade, up from 5% last year, according to the MPA-funded Australasian Film & Video Security Office. More than 70,000 optical disks — mostly from Malaysia — have been seized this year, nearly three times more than 2001. But officials said that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A campaign to increase industry and public awareness of the problem kicks off at the annual Australian Movie Convention, which runs Tuesday-Aug. 17 at the Royal Pines Resort in Queensland.

It is the theme of a Thursday seminar at the confab, where speakers will include the MPA’s regional director for Asia Pacific anti-piracy, Mike Ellis; AFVSO director Steve Howes; and, for a global perspective, UIP prez Andrew Cripps.

“Piracy is a lot more serious than anyone expected,” said Motion Picture Distributors Assn. of Australia chairman Mike Selwyn.

BVI Australia managing director Alan Finney warned, “If piracy increases, the danger is that distributors will have to release more films day-and-date with the U.S., which means they won’t be able to afford to supply prints to cinemas in rural and regional areas. Anything which affects moviegoing will have an impact on the video and TV windows.”

The MPA and the MPDA are calling on magistrates to impose stiff fines and jail sentences for offenders as a greater deterrent. No offender has ever been jailed.

Piracy is more rife in Melbourne than in Sydney. Police there said counterfeit DVDs and VCDs are sold, or have been, at nearly all of the city’s 63 weekend markets.

A record 850 delegates have signed up for the convention, which will feature screenings of Sony’s “XXX,” Fox’s “The Banger Sisters,” UIP’s “The Guru,” Fox’s “Swimfan” (directed by Aussie John Polson) and local titles “Crackerjack” and “Blurred.”

Improved attendance

That’s a big jump from last year’s 650, due to bigger contingents from the U.S. and New Zealand and aided by the Australian Film Commission’s initiative of sending 30 Aussie filmmakers to the confab to meet exhibs and promote their films. Clips of 24 upcoming Aussie films will be aired Tuesday at the Australia on Show evening.

Among U.S. reps will be BVI’s Mark Zoradi, Universal’s Randy Greenberg, Revolution Studios’ Geoffrey Bossiere and Fox’s Bob Girard.

The mood among attendees should be bullish, as B.O. revenues through the end of June were 6.7% ahead of last year. Selywn expects that the year will finish 5%-8% ahead of 2001, predicting a nationwide gross as high as $473 million.

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