According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), DVD pirates are stealing a fortune from the movie industry. In 2002, the (MPAA) believes that Hollywood lost $3 billion in revenue to piracy. The major culprits are in the Far East. Purchase a DVD in Asia and chances are you've bought an illegal copy. For example, in Indonesia, it is believed that only 10 percent of all DVD sales are legit.
Last year, the MPAA began utilizing informants to help stop DVD piracy in Hong Kong. This year, they've launched a public relations campaign announcing they've expanded their scope to India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. "We wanted to make sure the public was fully aware that we were willing to provide rewards to people who came forward with information," says Ken Jacobsen, MPAA's director for Worldwide Anti-Piracy Operations, who estimates that more than 95% of all DVD piracy comes from the Far East.
In an effort to find and stop piracy, the MPAA, Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA), and International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) function much like law enforcement agencies. Their objective is to get information in the most concise way possible. And informants willing to name names are often the first source. "Our investigations are very much like narcotics investigations," says Frank Creighton, executive vice president and director of anti-piracy at the RIAA. "To the extent that you can utilize informants that not only can point to where the infringing activity is occurring, but in some cases actually facilitate evidence purchases or for that matter even get inside some of those locations, you save significantly on resources."
Both the MPAA and RIAA created their own similarly named Columbia House Record Collection-sounding informant programs: DVD Rewards and CDReward. RIAA's piracy-cracking operations are U.S.-based. In Asia and the rest of the world, the MPAA works with the international arm of the recording industry, IFPI.
In the U.S., the MPAA and RIAA share best practices and work on investigations together. "Many of our programs are modeled after each other," says Creighton, "Many of the pirate operations that we end up raiding involve both music and motion pictures." Creighton cites a recent RIAA raid in the Bronx where they found about 20,000 pieces of infringing music in addition to VCRs and DVD recorders.
The MPAA has been dealing with piracy since the popularity of the video cassette. But the speed at which DVD piracy has affected the movie industry came as a shock. "The marketplace is quickly transitioning to optical disc more quickly than anybody ever anticipated," Jacobsen says. The shift has been dramatic. In 1998, the MPAA seized no illegal DVDs anywhere in the world. Last year, the MPAA seized 7 million worldwide. In addition, the organization seized 26 million video CDs, a lower-quality (MPEG-1-based) optical disc video format popular in Asia.
Although peer-to-peer programs have been receiving considerable press with regards to illegal file trading, the bulk of efforts by the MPAA and RIAA have focused on illegal copying of DVDs and CDs to prevent the erosion of retail sales. "We can't not focus at the retail level," says the RIAA's Creighton. "That's where sales are being directly impacted. That's where local retailers are going out of business. That's where federal, state and local governments are losing taxes. That's where consumers are being defrauded."
Catching piracy requires good, old-fashioned investigation. It begins with the understanding that the infringing product must ultimately be distributed to consumers. So the music and movie authorities scan street vendors, flea market vendors, or retail stores for the presence of infringing products. If they find something, surveillance begins. Who's supplying them? Follow vehicles, take down license plate numbers, and find out where they're going to get their product. Take it up the chain to find the manufacturing operation. Optical discs have unique markings that are often specific and traceable to a manufacturer. If an infringed optical disc is found, the authorities use forensics to trace the disc back to the plant where it was produced. They then approach the manufacturer seeking cooperation to find the customer who placed the order.
If you believe you have information that could help an investigation into pirate operations, call the MPAA at 1-800-NO-COPYS (1-800-662-6797); or the RIAA at 1-888-BAD-BEAT (1-888-223-2328).