Hitting pause on piracy

By Oupa Makhalemele

On 19 March 2019 the Film and Publications Board destroyed over 100,000 illegal DVD’s in Cape Town and Durban, amounting to over a whopping R11 million. The illegal distribution of films and games not only impacts on the revenue of content creators, it similarly places children at risk of exposure to potentially harmful, unclassified material.

Copyright piracy is a major challenge for us in Africa as well as globally and places a toll on the current global economic slowdown, including China where nine out of 10 DVDs sold are pirated.

“This is a high priority issue,” said Motion Picture Association of America head Dan Glickman, who expressed concern that the dire financial situation globally would make pirated movies more popular on the streets and online.

The current economic crisis and rates of unemployment in South Africa exacerbates this problem. Additionally regulatory bodies must protect the Intellectual Property rights of the creatives in our industry. Pirated videos and DVDs are costing the country billions of rands a year, threatening legitimate businesses and hundreds of jobs.

Cinema chains are losing hundreds of millions in DVD sales and cinema receipts as counterfeit DVDs of blockbuster movies are being sold on street corners days before their big-screen opening.

In terms of the Counterfeit Act, a person caught with just one pirated DVD faces a maximum R5 000 fine or three years in jail. But the law is not effectively enforced, and many South Africans regard the buying of pirated works as a trivial offence. But the downstream harm to our economy is felt by small businesses such as various video rental shops that are forced to close down.  Earlier this month, counterfeit DVDs and Sony PlayStation games with a street value of more than R10-million were seized during a raid in Mayfair, Johannesburg.

Ster-Kinekor Cinema’s legal adviser, Corné Göldenpfennig, said pirated DVDs are killing the movie chain’s business and it is particularly losing sales from video shops, which are struggling to survive. “Since last year, we have lost R220-million on pirated DVDs, that’s a loss of turnover between 30 percent and 40 percent.”

Johannesburg and Cape Town are worst hit by piracy. This means job losses, which affects the very economy we seek to protect and grow.  Fred Potgieter, managing director of the Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft, said piracy puts pressure on video rental stores as they have to compete with an illegal market.

Presently about 40% of DVDs on the market are pirated, and the Film and Publications Board (FPB) has confiscated 193 000 illegal DVD’s during the past year. Some 116 notices were issued for non-compliance of unclassified material, unregistered distributors and non-renewal of licenses.

The FPB also conducted 93 raids with law enforcement agencies, which resulted in 41 559 discs being confiscated and 60 cases being opened. A total of 113 686 discs with a street value of R11 368 600 were destroyed. Law enforcement is becoming more effective, however, the problem is getting worse. Additional resources are required to build the partnership between all stakeholders such as SAPS, the general public and the FPB. Parents, caregivers and children must be made aware of the psycho-social damage early exposure of harmful material has on the development of our youth.

Inspector Enos Phandavhudzi, of the Johannesburg Commercial Crime Unit, said, “thousands of people had been arrested for pirated DVDs since last year, but the problem was that there had been very few convictions. The only way to ensure effective conviction on piracy is to get suspects to be charged under the Film and Publication Act, because with that we are able to deal with cases directly.”

Whilst SA is saddled with billions of rands in annual losses due to piracy the total global cost to the motion picture industry is much higher. About $2,7-billion of these losses occur in China, where nine out of every 10 DVDs sold are illegal copies.

Film and television have the potential to drive the South African economy given the fact that in 2017, $34 million in annual income was derived through entertainment and media activity, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers Entertainment and Media outlook 2018-2022. This supports over 22 000 direct jobs in SA and much larger numbers if we factor in beneficiated jobs.

FPB, in partnership with the South African Police Service, Metro Police and Law Enforcement Informal Traders Unit, destroyed over 100 000 DVD’s and CD’s at an estimated value of R 11.2 million in Cape Town on 20 March 2019. This is in addition to more than 19 000 discs, with a value of around R 6.7 million, destroyed in Durban on 8 March 2019.

These discs were seized during raids conducted by the FPB compliance officers, who also assist with compiling analysis reports used as evidence in court cases.

“Most of the confiscated material was unclassified, making it illegal under the Films and Publications Act.  In addition, some discs contained pornographic material which were sold on the streets carrying the risk of exposing children to harmful content. Pornographic material by law can only be accessed through vendors licensed by the FPB to distribute adult content after it has been classified as such,” says Lynette Kamineth, FPB’s Spokesperson.

“The illegal distribution of discs impacts negatively on the film and creative industry as well as the economy of the country. Pirate peddlers steal intellectual property and deprive content creators of their royalties. Legally registered distributors lose their livelihoods,” she said.

Contributors

Oupa Makhalemele

Oupa Makhalemele works in the Research, Policy and Advocacy Unit at the Film and Publication Board. He has published widely on transitional justice, local government and youth and identity in South Africa.

Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter and get notified of new issues.