South Africa 'helpless' against pirated Indian movies
South African authorities are seizing thousands of Hollywood film copies originating in Pakistan, but claim to be powerless against illegal prints of Indian movies on DVDs.
By Fakir Hassen, IANS
Fred Potgieter, managing director of the South African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT), told IANS they could not act against people importing and selling pirate copies of Indian films on video and DVD because the federation did not have a mandate from the copyright holders of these titles.
In the past month, raids on warehouses and pavement salesmen in the mainly Indian suburbs of Mayfair and Fordsburg here have yielded thousands of pirated copies of the latest Hollywood titles, including of those not even released in South Africa.
Initially, thousands of Indian movie titles were also seized but these were released because SAFACT did not have a mandate to act against them.
Ironically, the reproductions of Indian movies are of high quality while the Hollywood titles are often poor quality rip-offs by someone sneaking into a screening with a video camera.
One can even see the picture tilting as the "cameraman" moves, and sometimes one can hear people in the audience laughing, making comments about the movie or munching.
These pirate DVDs have a ready market among South African consumers because they sell for as little as $5 each, as opposed to the average price of $25 for a legal copy.
The $5 price becomes even more attractive to buyers when they realise that the pirate copies often contain up to five movies on one disc, resulting in buyers disregarding warnings of prosecution for possessions of illegal copies.
Potgieter claimed that Pakistan has become the prime source of this illegal product. He said South Africa had now moved to third spot in the list of countries in the Europe and Asian regions, which received the most pirated goods, after Britain and Russia.
But sellers of Indian movies on DVD, mainly Pakistanis who have come here in search of a better life and fail to find any other employment, are blatantly promoting and competing in selling these products.
Those who had also been selling Hollywood DVDs have stopped doing so altogether after an alleged ringleader was caught.
Potgieter claimed that the pirate DVD business was a syndicate, which was "well-organised".
SAFACT, South African revenue and customs authorities and the police are now working closely together to stem the tide of growing imports of fake DVDs.
During the past month, a number of Pakistani nationals have been arrested at the Johannesburg International Airport after being found in possession of thousands of DVDs.
In one case three Pakistani nationals were fined a total of 112,000 rands and deported to Pakistan after being convicted of contravening the Counterfeit Goods Act for importing more than 8,000 counterfeit DVDs.
The tiles included "Spiderman 2", "Shrek 2", and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", the latest Hollywood titles which were due for release on the cinema circuit only a few weeks later.
The fines for Farham Radiya, Akhtar Ali and Mahommed Asif Ababsi, who arrived on flights from Dubai, were paid almost immediately, substantiating the allegation hat there was an organised syndicate involved in smuggling in fake DVDs.
In a separate case, a frail 62-year-old South African Indian, Azziz Ibrahim, appeared in court on customs and copyright charges after counterfeit DVD's and Sony Playstation Games with a street value of nearly $1.5 million were found in his warehouse here.
Potgieter estimated that about 40 percent of DVDs in South Africa are pirated copies, which is placing thousands of jobs under threat as well. He said the country's cinema chains and video rental stores were losing millions of rands.
Although a person caught with just one counterfeit DVD faces a fine of $1,000 or three months imprisonment, there is very little law enforcement because of strained police resources and higher priorities.
Police said convictions under the Copyright Act were complicated and it would be better to charge people under the Films and Publications Act for possession of material that had not been certified by the authorities.
But while the strong action against pirates of Hollywood product goes on, thousands of Indian film titles continue to find a ready market.
At a busy corner in the Indian food mecca of Fordsburg, a seller screams out: "Now here: "Main Hoon Na" and "Hum Tum" on one CD - only $6," as a dozen other vendors along the same street try to outdo him from tables packed with combination titles of Bollywood films.
But try to get a seller's name, or where they get their stock from, and the smiles disappears because of suspicion that the buyer might be an agent of some South African authority.