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South African teens charged in piracy

Kids selling fake goods at schools, according to police

JOHANNESBURG — Teenagers as young as 14 have been charged with selling pirated films as South African authorities try to stem the wave of counterfeit films, music and computer games flooding the country.

Charges have been laid against nine teens in the Gauteng province while children as young as 8 have been rounded up in raids at flea markets and roadside stalls in the past three months. Kids are even selling fake merchandise at schools, according to police.

Fred Potgieter, managing director of the SA Federation Against Copyright Theft, said about 100,000 pirated DVDs pass through Johannesburg Intl. Airport each month.

During December, customs officials intercepted 16,900 DVDs in a single consignment from Malaysia, sent via Mauritius. The discs included 2,700 copies of Tom Cruise starrer “The Last Samurai,” which doesn’t hit theaters in South Africa until later this month.

There is a ready market for the fakes. A recent survey by Ster-Kinekor Home Entertainment found that although consumers know piracy is illegal, they were not likely to report vendors and would buy pirated products if they were cheaper.

Now taking action

Under pressure from artists and international film studios, and fearing the consequences of being branded a “piracy state,” the government is taking action.

The police’s organized-crime unit has been instructed to step up raids and investigations, while the Dept. of Arts & Culture has asked the Legal Aid Board to appoint two attorneys to handle the infringement of artists’ rights and secure piracy convictions.

Music and film distributors and exhibitors have come on board with public education campaigns about the consequences of supporting piracy.

But they are fighting an uphill battle on the African continent, where many countries do not have anti-piracy legislation and the local recording industry has been wiped out in several countries as a result of illegal taping.

However, in Zimbabwe, one local cassette manufacturer has showed it is possible to beat the pirates.

Creative solution

Gramma Records deputy chairman Julian Howard said the company kept lowering its prices to compete with the pirates, who then lowered theirs.

“We soon realized we could not fight them like that, so with the help of police and our anti-piracy team, we tracked down vendors selling pirated cassettes and then employed them to sell our products,” he said. “Within a year, we more than doubled our sales.”

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