Downloading an update on piracy

The SA Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT) is considered one of the most effective anti-piracy organisations in the film industry � yet, despite this, video piracy continues, with pirated copies of the mega box office success District 9 readily available shortly after the film�s release on the SA circuit. In Focus spoke to James Lennox, CEO of SAFACT, to provide readers with an update on what�s happening and what actions the organisation is taking to counter this scourge.

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James Lennox of SAFACT
South Africa's relatively high per capita GDP, in African terms, sophisticated infrastructure and financial systems coupled with high penetration levels of western media, technology and lifestyles presents a lucrative market for counterfeit goods. At the same time, unemployment remains the most critical economic challenge in South Africa, resulting in many resorting to crime.

In Focus: What�s the current situation regarding piracy from a SAFACT point of view. Would you say it is better or worse than a year ago?
Lennox: I would say the situation has slightly improved, with less visible piracy than the year before, particularly on the streets and flea markets in the main centres. Abuse of corporate and university connectivity to download copyright infringing films is of concern but we have started to address this problem. Imports of pirated films and PlayStation games have come down significantly.

In Focus: You attended a meeting overseas recently, what was that about?
Lennox: I attended a strategic planning meeting in London for the Motion Picture Association�s (MPA) EMEA region. We are considered one of the most effective anti-piracy organisations in the film industry but it was extremely informative for me, particularly in respect to Internet-based piracy and the actions against websites such as Pirate Bay and Minninova. The London meeting was particularly interested in as far as how we managed to keep Mr Bones 2 free from being pirated throughout its cinema release.

In Focus: Are the majority of pirated DVD�s done locally or overseas, and do you have a fix on where they are made?
Lennox: With the exception of pirated versions of local movies, all pirated content available in South Africa originates overseas but the majority of the DVD�s are burned in South Africa. Content is acquired either from the Internet or by importing a copy from the Far East through the post. As to the original source of the pirated content, most originate as cam-cordings taken in cinemas in first release countries.

In Focus: Do you have any idea how District 9 got onto the street corners?
Lennox: District 9 was cam-corded in a Ukrainian cinema and uploaded onto the Internet. The MPA devotes considerable resources to the fight against source piracy and is beginning to see encouraging signs of progress. The pirated version of Wolverine, however, was sourced from a stolen copy of an unfinished version of the film. With the bulk of pirated movies in South Africa being on DVD-r�s, we have ongoing actions against the large number of small operators burning discs to order from residential properties rather than a few large scale burner operations. We have seen most of the latest movies available on the streets including District 9 and Ice Age 3.

In Focus: In general, what is the quality of pirated copies like?
Lennox: Quality varies dramatically from shocking (usually the first release cam-cording version of a new cinema release) to a quality comparable or equal to legitimate product (usually when ripped from a legitimate DVD release). However, our tests indicate that close to 40% of all discs analysed for court cases do not play properly. Faults include incomplete films (usually the end being cut), disc seizing during playing and poor pixilation. None of the pirated discs have the full additional content and audio settings don�t function.

In Focus: Are you able to mention any 'busts' that may have been made lately?
Lennox: There are too many to mention all of them here. Significant operations of late include raids on syndicate operations in Pretoria North that resulted in seven people being charged for copyright offences, 22 500 discs, 290 DVD writers and various other items of equipment used in the burning of pirated content onto DVD-r�s being seized. In Cape Town, eight people were arrested during raids on branches of Cybermedia, four people were arrested during a raid on a residence in Plumstead that was being used to burn and sell pirated copies of films and PlayStation games. Ongoing raids against traders at Bruma Lake Flea Market have, so far this year, resulted in just over 100 000 discs being seized and one person arrested for bribery and corruption as well as several others arrested for copyright infringement offences.

In Focus: What degree of cooperation do you get from the local authorities?
Lennox: While we could always do with more assistance we have, in general, excellent service from all law enforcement agencies. Problem areas that we feel are not being addressed adequately include the North Rand Road Street Vendors (Ekurhuleni) and around the Fourways Mall. Metro, Customs, SARS, SAPS, NPA and the Courts have all contributed significantly to the successes to date in the fight against piracy.

In Focus: If Joe Public is confronted with piracy, let�s say on the roadside, what should he/she do?
Lennox: We would appreciate the help of the public in two ways: firstly, don�t support criminals by buying pirated films and games and secondly, report suspicious activity by sms�ing the CrimeLine on 32211.

SAFACT was established in 1999 as a Section 21 Company, an association not for gain, with its primary role being to protect the intellectual property rights of its members in the Southern African film, home entertainment and interactive games industries. For more information, visit www.safact.co.za