Illegal DVD shops do roaring trade with 'Sith'

BEIJING — Would Darth Vader have approved of the dark side of the Force at work in Beijing?

China’s pirates had DVDs of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” on the streets of Beijing for between 10 and 20 yuan ($1.20-$2.40) while the credits were still unspooling on George Lucas’ latest effort.

“Revenge of the Sith” opened Thursday in China in a simultaneous launch with cinemas worldwide.

Chinese film fans usually wait months for foreign blockbusters to hit screens, but Beijing censors are speeding up approvals to let auds see the movie in a cinema before pirates can get their wares on the street.

However, this time it made little difference.

The illegal DVD shops — closed in Beijing last week for Fortune’s high-profile forum on intellectual property rights — were operating as normal in Beijing and Shanghai, and doing a roaring trade in the “Star Wars” pic.

Generally, pirate copies are made from videos shot in the cinema or from screener copies given to distributors and other industryites.

However, there was no sign of the telltale bobbing heads or low-quality sound that shows the “Revenge of the Sith” DVD was filmed in a cinema. The quality was blurred but watchable.

China has made many public statements about coming to grips with piracy, and even staged an antipiracy week in April.

However, the government still restricts the number of foreign pics allowed to screen every year to protect the homegrown film industry, and also for censorship reasons. This contributes to the piracy problem by creating a ready market for pics that might not screen for months, if at all.

Time Warner began selling cut-price DVDs last year for $3.60 each, and sold hundreds of thousands in the first month. But the pirates have an 80% stranglehold on the market.

There were nearly 10,000 prosecutions for piracy last year. Last month, a court in Shanghai jailed two Americans for selling 180,000 pirated DVDs on Internet auction sites.

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