MANILA: Every day, vendors of pirated movie and music discs sell their goods under rows of trees along a street in downtown Manila, just a few meters away from a police station and the Department of Justice office.
The discs are displayed on wooden tables that can easily be dismantled in case of rain or raids by anti-piracy agents, which vendors often find out about in advance.
Business is brisk, with tourists, students and employees of both private and government offices buying the bootlegged products throughout the day.
“That’s already a DVD copy,” the vendor told a regular customer, assuring him that the counterfeit version is as good as the original copy of the Academy Awards’ Best Picture winner, “No Country for Old Men”, which he was selling for just 50 pesos ($1.20).
The customer buys not just one but five movie DVDs, including one that has nine titles on it. The films include top Hollywood films that are not even showing yet in Philippine cinemas.
“It’s a great deal,” the buyer said, with a big smile. “My family will enjoy these. We don’t go to cinemas anymore because they are too expensive. Imagine, you’d have to pay at least 120 pesos per person to see a movie. I can already buy two DVDs with that money.”
Copyright piracy has remained a serious problem in the Philippines despite the country’s removal from the US Trade Representative’s priority watchlist of countries failing to protect intellectual property rights in 2006.
The Washington-based International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) lamented that piracy has actually worsened in the Philippines in 2007.
“The copyright piracy situation on the ground has gradually gotten worse,” the group said in a report to the US Trade Representative.
At least $212.3 million in revenues were lost in 2007 due to the bootlegging of books, business software, music, motion pictures and entertainment software in the Philippines, up 25 percent from the previous year, the IIPA report said.
It noted that while there was a marked increase in raids and seizures of pirated and fake products in 2006, the progress waned in 2007. “Real enforcement problems continue to plague right holders,” the group said. “There remains a paucity of criminal actions against large-scale producers and distributors, who remain largely untouched.”
“Further, irregularities like compromises in raids and leaks make deterrent enforcement impossible to achieve,” it added.
The IIPA said the Philippines is now a net importer of pirated discs, mainly from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia. These discs are sold almost everywhere in the country, including in department stores.
“Market intelligence also suggests an increase of locally burned pirated discs,” it said.
A hotspot for pirated discs and copycats of other products, such as branded jeans, bags and shoes, is the commercial district of Quiapo, where “commercial pirates carry out their activities with impunity”, the group said.
The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) of the Philippines rejected the IIPA’s assessment, noting that anti-piracy agents and the customs bureau seized 2.27 billion pesos worth of pirated discs and other fake products in 2007.
Adrian Cristobal, IPO director general, said various enforcement agencies also continue “to strengthen the intellectual property regime of the country through effective enforcement”.
“Last year’s operations resulted in the confiscation of fake items valued at almost 3 billion pesos, exceeding the combined confiscated value of goods seized in 2005 and 2006 by half a million pesos,” he said in a statement.
Cristobal added that aside from stopping the production and sale of counterfeit products, the government has also been active in promoting intellectual property rights through the implementation of various initiatives.
“One of the specific, strategic actions for the copyright sector is the formulation and implementation of policies for the recognition and accreditation of copyright collection management organisations,” he said.
He added that the IPO helped in the launching of the Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society, the first collection society for book authors in the country.
“Collection societies will manage arrangements for copyright licensing, marketing and distribution of the members’ works and enforce their intellectual property rights,” Cristobal said. IIPA said that while the seizures by Philippine authorities were impressive, “it must be noted that most of the product seized was counterfeit goods, not pirate copyright materials”, such as DVD replicating equipment.
The group added that criminal cases in the Philippines often only target small-time retail pirates and take too long. Since 2002, there have only been eight criminal convictions in the copyright area in the Philippines, including one case where the convicted person has absconded. Nearly 1,000 cases remain pending in various courts in the country.