The luckless pirated DVD seller


  • Business
  • Saturday, 10 Jan 2009

REMEMBER the Astro commercial featuring the luckless pirated DVD seller who cannot find anybody who has yet to watch the Hong Kong TV series that he is peddling? It is clever and funny, and our familiarity with the central character adds to the appeal.

In reality, the life of a foot soldier in the video piracy army does not offer many moments of mirth. The job combines a low income, drudgery, harassment, many hours on the feet, and some peril.

The people selling the DVDs at shops and stalls, and from table to table at restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, clubs and food courts, sit at the tail ends of long, multi-tiered supply chains. They are far removed from the manufacturers and probably know very little about the origin of the products.

Many of them work on commission. Their earnings are a fraction of the gains generated by the pirated DVD business. Insiders say the bulk of the profits are spread over the distribution network.

Consider this: The cost of making a pirated DVD is less than RM1, but when it hits the streets, it is usually sold for between RM5 and RM7. The blank discs are essentially cheap commodities purchased in bulk.

They spend a little more to come up with the inlays (more commonly known as the covers), but we can tell, of course, that not a lot of work and thought go into creating them.

A pirate’s major investment is the replicating lines. Costing millions of ringgit each, they allow the pirates to rapidly churn out DVDs; the production cycle times are measured in seconds. Others use burners, which are cheaper but far slower.

It is understood that there are about three to five major groups of pirated DVD manufacturers in Malaysia. Some are known to be registered businesses set up to produce optical discs, but are later caught with pirated products.

Last month, the Motion Picture Association (MPA) announced that the Kuala Lumpur High Court had ruled in favour of an MPA member company in a case against ODVD Manufacturers Sdn Bhd, an optical disc manufacturing company in Batu Caves, Selangor.

In a default judgment resulting from the defendant’s failure to appear, the court awarded an injunction in favour of Columbia Pictures Industries Inc, restraining ODVD, its directors, servants and agents from infringing any of the plaintiff’s present and future titles, as well as awarding costs and damages

The action was initiated following a 2002 raid led by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry.

For the latest movies, the content is either illegally recorded from a local cinema or downloaded via the Internet. The pirated versions of older releases are taken from the authorised DVDs. Ever enterprising, the pirates hire experts to get around the anti-copying security features of the original DVDs.

The pirated DVDs go through many hands before they end up with the sellers. As they are on the frontlines, the DVD sellers are the most exposed to enforcement action. During times when the authorities crack down on piracy, the sellers are a jittery lot.

How many times have we seen stallholders frantically packing up their wares and disappearing after spotting enforcement officers?

Also, the DVD piracy business frequently have ties to the underworld, and from time to time, this leads to violence. It was recently reported that a DVD seller in Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur was beaten up by men from a rival gang after he had refused to increase his price from RM7 to RM10.

The guy in the Astro advertisement is not so unfortunate after all. At least, all he had to deal with is constant rejection.

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