Pirates of the Philippines

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 12:00am

In other countries, anyone looking for pirated CDs would probably have to go to a dealer. Here in Manila, the dealer goes to you.

I found this out when, coming out of a restaurant one day, I was approached by a man carrying a black shoulder bag. Inquiring hopefully, 'DVD?', he showed me what he was toting - sheaves and sheaves of bootleg DVDs of the latest Hollywood movies.

After I had looked over the disc collection without buying anything, the vendor politely suggested that if I did not find a title I wanted, I could maybe contact him later and he would meet me if he found the movie. He then gave me his mobile phone number before moving on, quite unfurtively.

All the government's efforts to curb intellectual piracy have done little to dent the traffic in bootleg CDs. Movies, music and software are readily and easily available, retailing for an average of 100 pesos (HK$14) per disc. Every now and then the authorities will raid some malls and cart off what merchandise they can seize, but after a few days the CD merchants will be back in business. Futility is 'like shovelling flies across a barn', Abraham Lincoln said. He could have been describing anti-piracy efforts in the Philippines.

The pirates are very much the flies in the ointment of the recording and film industry here. The industry has lobbied strenuously and loudly for draconian measures. Strangely, most software companies do not even bother. Apparently they have written off the Philippines as a 'one-disc country' - every other copy being pirated.

The public is all on the side of the pirates, for reasons that are understandable, if not legal. The pirates offer cheap DVD movies and will exchange any defective products without fuss. It is hard to imagine getting prices and service like that in regular stores. Already the rampant piracy has had an economic effect - genuine VCDs and DVDs have gone down sharply in price.

Now the studios are banking on the recently passed Optical Media Act, which promises dire punishments for 'unregistered' businesses involved in the manufacture, reproduction, sale and distribution of CDs. Unfortunately, with the thicket of licensing fees it imposes, the law will probably create price hikes, which will be passed on to the public. Plus, in this country, where there are regulations and fees, corruption cannot be far behind.

Even before the act was passed, there were already reports that, after some raids, the evidence kept in custody by the police had a way of getting 'lost'. One thing seems sure - intellectual piracy in this country is too lucrative an industry to stamp out entirely.