South African pirates nabbed

Former Video Lab employees arrested

JOHANNESBURG — Two former employees of leading Johannesburg-based post-production company Video Lab have been arrested in connection with the pirating of two South African films — the Oscar-winning “Tsotsi” and Leon Schuster’s “Mama Jack.”

Pirated copies of both were on sale from roadside vendors in November last year, with “Tsotsi” available even before its Dec. 3 theatrical release in the country.

Police announced over the weekend that they had arrested two key members of a syndicate involved in producing and distributing pirated copies of “Tsotsi” and “Mama Jack” following an intensive three-month investigation in conjunction with the SA Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFact). They will appear in court today.

The suspects worked at Video Lab, which was involved with the post-production of both films, until they resigned late last year.

SAFact chief executive James Lennox said the evidence had pointed to an inside job by members of the editing team of both films, and SAFact had approached Video Lab for help with the investigation. In the case of “Tsotsi,” it was clear that copies had been made early in the editing process — the pirated copy was a low-quality, incompletely edited version with an ending different from that of the final version.

Video Lab managing editor Dave Keets said his staff “were shocked and very surprised” that former employees had been implicated in the piracy. “When SAFact approached us, we gave them our full support and cooperation,” he said. “We are now putting in new security measures to ensure that this does not happen again.”

“Mama Jack” producer Videovision Entertainment has blamed piracy for the film’s lower-than-expected box office figures. The trademark comedy by local B.O. king Schuster was widely expected to beat the box office record for a South African film, held by Schuster’s own “Mr. Bones,” with $5.5 million but has fallen short of this mark at $4.5 million.

Exec producer Sanjeev Singh said that when the pirated DVDs appeared on the streets just a couple of weeks after the film’s theatrical release, “Mama Jack” had been $400,000 ahead of “Mr. Bones” for the same number of weeks. He estimated that the pirated DVD had affected the film’s box office by around $1 million because of the loss of repeat business.

“Tsotsi” is performing well, having made more than $1 million on just 21 prints to date, but producers expect future DVD sales income in particular to be affected by the availability of illegal copies.