By Richard Agnew
AN INDUSTRY BODY backed by major Hollywood studios has urged Middle Eastern governments to do more to crack down on DVD pirates, dubbing them “threats to national security.”
John Malcolm, worldwide anti-piracy director for the Motion Picture Association (MPA), claimed “highly organised” criminal groups were responsible for widespread distribution of fake movie disks in the region, despite authorities’ efforts.
Piracy conducted by Asian syndicates, he said, were responsible for millions of dollars of lost revenue for the global and regional media industry, and also presented a security threat to individual states.
“People engaged in piracy are dangerous people and constitute threats to national security,” he said. “I don't know who they are but I suspect they are very bad people. They have no problems resorting to violence and corruption. It’s Asia-driven. I do not think it is a coincidence that these disks are being distributed by illegal aliens from Asia,” he added.
The MPA, which represents major media outfits such as Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount, Buena Vista, Sony Pictures and Warner Brothers, is currently involved in anti-piracy programmes alongside several governments in the region. It recently had meetings with the customs department in Dubai — which he said was being used as a trans-shipment point for smuggled disks from China, India and Malaysia.
Despite “significant action” by Dubai’s authorities in tackling piracy, he claimed that slower progress in other Gulf states was hampering its efforts to create a regional media and internet hub.
“Dubai Media and Internet Cities’ success is tied to the registration of copyright material so you have to have piracy rates decreasing regionally," Malcolm said. “If you have property that’s developed here that’s stolen by a neighbouring state then there’s not any point in having that property,” he added.
The UAE was taken off the Intellectual Property Alliance’s priority watch list — a a global register warning firms of countries with inadequate intellectual property protection — in 2000, following efforts to clamp down on piracy. However, Lebanon, Egypt and Kuwait remain on the register, and Saudi Arabia is on the organisation’s standard watch list.
The Middle East market is seen as an increasingly significant one for Hollywood studios, considering that a large proportion of the region's 200 million population is made up of young people that have adapted to a western lifestyle. Observers also link the MPA’s warning to growing US pressure on Middle Eastern countries to introduce more effective safeguards of intellectual property, alongside talks on free trade.
“Every now and then, some US agency [or] association brings the same topic again to the table,” said Joe Khalil, an expert on the region’s media industry.
“In my opinion, it is part of a global attempt the US is doing to safeguard its intellectual property. Copyright laws in the region have been introduced but the governments — while wanting to comply with so-called American demands — are reluctant to crack down on piracy. Consequently, the US has to remind these governments every now and then of the need to comply with these laws,” he added.
Khalil also disputed the claim that DVD piracy originates solely from outside the region. “Chinese, Malay and Indonesian copies of new movies are smuggled into the region. However, some local Lebanese, Syrian and Moroccans have begun their own piracy businesses concentrating on Hollywood classics but also Arab films,” he added.
Malcolm said that small DVD burner labs still exist in the UAE, but not the large-scale replication facilities that have been uncovered in Pakistan and East Asia. A raid conducted by Sharjah's police earlier this month also discovered a DVD burning facility in the emirate, he added.