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Pirates pillage U.S. homevid in Oz

Illegal activities dropping, but Net thievery a big threat

GOLD COAST, Queensland — Homevideo piracy in Asia cost the U.S. majors more than $640 million in revenues last year.

Although piracy is being curbed in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Macao, sales of counterfeit DVDs and CDs are booming in Australia.

That will be the report card delivered today by Mike Ellis, the Motion Picture Assn.’s anti-piracy head in the region, at the Australian Intl. Movie Convention.

“The governments of Malaysia and Thailand are stepping up enforcement activities. The streets of Malaysia have never been cleaner of pirated product,” Ellis says in a copy of his speech obtained by Daily Variety. “In Bangkok, we have seen street availability of pirated goods drop by 35%.”

The MPA said the number of pirate DVDs seized almost doubled from 2.4 million to 4.3 million in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2002. In addition, the emergence of DVD-Rs with infringing movie content increased from seizures of just 26 discs in the first half of 2002 to 13,171 discs in the first half of 2003.

Police presence

Some 6.4 million DVDs were seized in Australia in 2002, up 28% from the previous year and more than in any other territory in the region, he said. Police impounded 4.3 million CDs, a staggering rise of 1,437% on 2001.

Piracy Down Under jumped from 5% in 2001 to 8% last year. In the first six months of this year, police and customs officials confiscated 73% more DVDs than in 2002.

The MPA is setting up an anti-piracy office in Oz to address the problem, Ellis confirmed (Daily Variety, Aug. 5).

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft will be operational by Jan 1. The MPA is looking for an executive director and a head of operations, who will be augmented by an Internet/customs liaison investigator and support staff.

The ops of the Australasian Film & Video Security Office, an independent contractor funded by the MPA, will be absorbed by AFACT.

Ellis identified piracy via the Internet as an even greater threat.

Exhibs at the convention were warned Thursday that they face a massive hike in royalties for music in films they screen.

The Australian Performing Rights Assn. has lodged a claim with the Copyright Tribunal to up the fee from 0.55% of 60% of B.O. receipts to 0.85% of the total gross — 2.6 times more than the current rate, which was introduced in 1992.

APRA said cinemas in many European countries pay a royalty of 1%. Exhibs say no increase is justified, and they’ve vowed to fight their case in the Copyright Tribunal.