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Pirate

WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter Amid piles of documents in his office, Kenneth Jacobsen has videocassette copies of “The Truman Show” and “Godzilla,” complete with samples of the promotional ads and posters that accompanied their release this summer. The movies, which have not yet been officially released on video, are just two of the 292,000 illegally made videocassettes that the Motion Picture Association’s domestic anti-piracy forces have recovered in the United States during the first half of 1998. “This is what our future is becoming,” said Jacobsen, vice president and director of U.S. anti-piracy operations for the Motion Picture Association of America, the MPA’s domestic arm. “It’s a new era of mediums like DVD and the Internet, and fighting digital piracy could end up a main focus for us in a few years.” Jacobsen’s Ventura Boulevard offices are the base of a global effort to stem the $2.5 billion a year that film companies like the Walt Disney Co. and Paramount Pictures lose each year movie bootleggers. It’s never been an easy job for the 190 or so staff members of the unit, who help coordinate and participate in police raids of piracy operations and lobby the U.S. and other governments for tighter copyright infringement laws. But counterfeit DVDs pose a special challenge: they can be made faster than videocassettes, and they are smaller and therefore easier to transport in larger numbers. “We are quite concerned about digital formats as they can be reproduced quickly, are smaller in size, and have same quality whether it’s the third copy or the thousandth copy,” said Judy Denenholz, senior vice president of worldwide anti-piracy for Walt Disney Pictures and Television, a division of The Walt Disney Co. As for Internet-based piracy, Jacobsen said, soon people may be able to log onto a site a download a movie that somebody illegally acquired. “That technology is in its infancy now,” he said. “Preventing all of this could involve encryption, but it’s too early to say.” Jacobsen said the department is meeting with the movie production companies as well as manufacturers of DVD movies and equipment and Internet industry officials to devise ways to head off digital movie bootlegging before it takes off. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) is a trade group whose sole members are the seven largest movie production companies including companies like Paramount Pictures and Disney. Jacobsen, who was an FBI agent and official for 26 years before joining the association in 1995, commands a 40-person anti-piracy team that works primarily in Los Angeles and New York, and contracts with private investigators in other cities when needed. Another 150 international operatives report to Frederic Hirsch, the director of worldwide anti-piracy for the Motion Picture Association. The department, which works with a “multi-million-dollar” budget, has regional offices in Washington, D.C., Rio De Janeiro, Singapore and Brussels, plus more than a dozen branch offices, Hirsch said. Hirsch explained that it is not realistic to expect that piracy can ever be stamped out completely, but the unit aims to keep the activity at target levels in the countries the movie industry considers important markets. For example, the unit is generally meeting its goal of keeping the ratio of five or 10 illegal videos for every 100 legal videos sold in the United States, he said. The ratio is even more favorable in Canada, he said, probably because there appear to be almost no video reproduction labs there. “We generally have the resources to keep piracy from running rampant in many of the countries the industry is concerned about,” said Hirsch. “It’s different from country to country.” He said there are no financial estimates as to how much of a bite unit takes out of piracy each year. Much of the MPA’s foreign anti-piracy effort involves the organization’s representatives lobbying foreign governments to strengthen their copyright laws and provide stricter enforcement. Also, its Washington, D.C. office, where the MPA’s and MPAA’s president and chief executive Jack Valenti does much of his work, lobbies the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to pressure trading partner countries to be proactive against movie piracy. “If it’s a country that values trade with the U.S., then we can have some leverage with them (to help fight piracy),” Hirsch said. In countries that have little in the way of copyright laws, such as some African countries, the MPA makes almost no effort to fight what is often widespread piracy. At the same time, some of those same poorer countries are low priorities because are of “little commercial interest” to the studios. Hirsch said that fighting counterfeiting is an ongoing process because it is in some ways like dueling with Hydra all too often a shut down bootlegging operation will pop up somewhere else. Case in point is China, which until last year had factories devoted to reproducing counterfeit Hollywood movies, mostly on a format called video compact discs (VCDs). U.S. trade officials last year pressured the Chinese government to crack down on those operations. “It was a nice success at the time, but now pirates in surrounding countries are only too happy to supply China, which has a fairly porous border,” Hirsch said. The surrounding countries include Hong Kong, he said, which was the site of the association’s largest ever raid this past June. On that occasion, 55 facilities were raided in one day and 8 million counterfeit movie copies were seized, along with duplicating equipment worth over $60 million. VCDs, which are essentially movies on compact discs, are a popular, cheap, and unfortunately for anti-piracy forces more easily smuggled than videocassettes, as they are essentially the same size as music compact discs. In the U.S. where movie studios lose about $250 million a year the bulk of pirating involves videocassettes. This starts in labs where numerous VCRs pump out copies of films that the studios might not release on video for months. These are often sold out of boxes on crowded city streets, at swap meets and even at video stores. While New York City is the most problematic area for piracy domestically, Jacobsen said, second-place Los Angeles area is no slouch. In fact, one of the largest residential pirating labs ever discovered was busted on August 7 in the city of San Gabriel, where over 160 electronic duplicating machines were confiscated. Association officials, working with the county District Attorney’s Major Crimes Unit, found over 1,000 unauthorized copies of unreleased movies at the house, and the duplicating machines were recording copies of “Man in the Iron Mask” at the time of the search warrant was served. Most of the association’s busts stem from tips that are phoned in to its hotline (1-800-NO-COPYS). They come from neighbors of pirates, friends and others, Jacobsen said. In some cases, a competitor of a video store suspected to be selling or renting illegal movie copies will make the call. About 80 percent of the domestic anti-piracy unit’s resources are devoted to fighting the production and distribution of illegal videocassettes, while the rest goes to fighting things like the illegal tapping of cable and satellite broadcasts of movies and unauthorized public showings. Since its inception in 1975, the MPAA, along with law officials and with help from studios, have seized more than 2.6 million illegal videotapes, 32,000 film prints and other goods that have led to over 1,000 criminal convictions, according to the association. While the MPAA has been located in the Valley since it was founded, the MPA’s international anti-piracy offices moved here from New York in 1993. The proximity is a plus for movie production companies like Disney, Denenholz said. “We’re sort of like a team,” said Disney’s Denenholz said. “You have better communication and coordination when all the team members are in the same area.” Disney and many other studios have their own anti-piracy departments, she said. She said that the studio benefits from MPA anti-piracy program, though the company’s department goes after cases sometimes with the help of law enforcement officials which specifically involve Disney products.

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