Industry forms initiative to combat counterfeits

LONDON — If the problem of film piracy is not met face on, the British film industry faces the prospect of collapsing “like a house of cards” warned Callum McDougall, exec producer of boffo Bond pic “Quantum of Solace.”   

McDougall’s stark warning came as the U.K. film industry unveiled its largest ever industry collaboration on piracy. Spearheaded by the MPA and the U.K. Film Council, it aims to make London free of counterfeits by 2012, in time for the staging of the Olympic Games.

McDougall, who also exec produced “Casino Royale” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” rang the alarm in an address to industryites at the annual meeting of the Industry Trust for IP Awareness on Wednesday. Last year, copyright theft cost the British film and TV industries £486 million ($717.6 million) in lost revs.

“Films like Bond fund training schemes for film technicians of the future, and working on films themselves provides a great training ground for budding directors and cinematographers,” noted McDougall. “If there’s no money there for films to be made, it’s like a house of cards, it all comes tumbling down.”

Well-grounded concerns like McDougall’s have led to the Fake Free initiative, which aims to draw attention to the fact that the illegal manufacture, distribution and sale of knock off DVDs generates $300 million a year in the U.K. for criminals, some with links to serious crimes like people smuggling and money laundering.

The Fake Free crackdown is already under way with 39 arrests made and more than 90,000 counterfeit DVDs seized in the past fortnight. However, the scheme has a long way to go given that if you spend an evening in a London pub your conversation is regularly interrupted by pirates surreptitiously selling fake DVD.

The scale of the problem has encouraged a host of industry figures to echo McDougall’s warnings.  “If we don’t get it under control, piracy is going to kill the film industry,” is the blunt verdict from U.K. Film Council CEO John Woodward.

But it was not all doom and gloom at the Trust’s meeting. Liz Bales, director general of the Industry Trust, reported that both 2008 cinema grosses and DVD sales are up on the same period last year despite the fact that one in three people (some unknowingly) were involved in a form of copyright theft last year.

Phil Clapp, chief exec of the U.K. Cinema Exhibitors Assn., assured attendees that the exhibition sector is up for the anti-piracy fight.

“We will continue to work together to ensure consumers are receiving a consistent message about the threat film theft poses to the future of film in the U.K. whilst also providing a clearer path to the legal alternatives,” he said.

Recently, the Trust’s communications strategy has been spearheaded by the “knock-off Nigel” campaign, which aims to change consumer attitudes and behavior toward piracy by creating a social stigma around the consumption of counterfeit goods. In ads, the Nigel character is an unappealing low-level film pirate who is depicted as a cheap skuzzbucket frowned on by his mates for offering them illegally downloaded movies in the pub and workplace.

Another strand of the campaign to build awareness is a series of free December screenings of helmer Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” laid on by Fake Free to remind auds of the joys of watching pics on the bigscreen.

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