Vol. 4 Num 36 Wed. July 02, 2003  
Star City

Pirates rule the film industry
How can the local film industry compete when the very latest foreign films are available in the market within 24 hours of their release abroad

The craze for computer based multimedia entertainment has created a booming market in pirated video compact discs (VCDs) and digital video discs (DVDs) in the city. Over the last decade, Bangladesh has joined other Asian countries such as Singapore, India, Thailand and Pakistan as an avid consumer of these pirated VCD and DVD products.

The Stadium Market and Eastern Plaza are the main points of sale for the latest movies on compact and digital video discs, though they are also available on the footpaths of Elephant Road and around the Farmgate area.

With the increase in demand, VCD and DVD clubs are opening at an ever-increasing rate throughout the city. However, most of the club owners do not concern themselves with the legal issues related to the distribution of pirated video products.

When the proprietor of a prominent video club was questioned regarding these issues, he said, " VCDs and DVDs have been sold and distributed in Dhaka illegally from the very beginning. But we still continue, since there is such a high demand for the latest Hindi and English movies."

Regarding the sources of these latest movies, he added, "Basically, there are a number of groups who provide us with the latest movies. The ring has its base in Malaysia and Pakistan."

The movies are recorded in theatres when they are released abroad. They are then mailed through the Internet to groups in Malaysia or Pakistan. Here, after some filtering and editing, the movies are burnt onto compact or digital discs. These are then distributed by smugglers to various destinations. Usually they travel by air and therefore, the very latest movies like Matrix Reload, X-Men 2 and Devdas are found in Dhaka only fifteen to sixteen hours after their release in foreign countries. But proof of their piracy is apparent in the viewing as the shadows of audience members can be seen at the bottom of the screen.

"A few days back, the Malaysian authority got strict and supplies have diminished from that side." said the video club owner. "Now, Pakistan is the reigning supplier," he concluded.

The demand for Bengali movies has diminished, due to piracy and the screening of foreign movies by cable operators. But Bangladeshi films are also being pirated these days.

Film actor Ujjal, also the General Secretary of the Bangladesh Film Producers Association, said in this regard: "There is a law against piracy but it is not being utilized in the full sense."

"Bangladesh has a very small market for the film industry with around 1200 cinema halls countrywide. Through extensive marketing and distribution, a new movie may run in around 300-400 cinemas. Usually only 20 to 25 prints are made of a movie. But somehow within 24 to 72 hours of a movie's release, it is found in all the video CD clubs," said the actor.

As people prefer to watch these films in the comfort of their own homes, the Bangladeshi film industry is suffering both from pirated foreign and Bangladeshi films..

"When we asked the government for help, they informed us that there is already a copyright law passed by the Cultural Ministry and this has been modified to include video and audio piracy," said Ujjal.

The Copyright Law Act 2000 was updated in 2002 to provide penalties and punishment for video and audio piracy of up to 4 years imprisonment and up to Tk 3 lakh fine.

"Furthermore, to fall under this law, every Bengali movie would need to be registered before being released. But copyright registration costs a producer Tk 60,000 to Tk 80,000. It would be better for producers if the Copyright Act recognizes a movie as soon as it acquires the Censor Certificate," said the actor.

"But the normal public, the video pirates along with the authorities are unaware of this law and thus piracy continues," said Ujjal.

The craze for the latest multimedia products has ensured a flourishing pirate trade in VCDs and DVDs. Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain