Retailers clear pirated DVDs

File photo shows customers browsing for pirated DVDs at one of the shops in Gadong. Retailers of pirated movies and music are selling their wares at rock-bottom prices after authorities ordered them to clear their stock of illegal reproductions or face fines and possible jail time. Picture: BT file

Monday, May 7, 2012

RETAILERS of pirated movies and music are selling their wares at rock bottom prices after authorities ordered them to clear their stock of illegal reproductions or face fines and possible jail time.

Vendors told The Brunei Times that the Municipal Board had issued warning letters to retailers stating that the sale of infringing material could be punished by up to six months' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine under the Copyright Order.

"We were given a time frame to clear pirated discs, so we have been selling them for $1 per disc to get rid of all our stock. We usually sell it for $2.50," said Jenny, a salesperson at Chong Hock Music Centre, Kiulap.

"I don't know if this is temporary or permanent but maybe in the future we will have to switch to selling original DVDs."

Pirated copies of the latest box office hits are an almost ubiquitous sight in the Sultanate, with discs being sold for between $2 to $12, depending on the quality of the reproduction.

With word of the latest government sweep of pirated material, shops have been selling their items at rock bottom prices, with signs stating "no testing, no returns".

"We haven't been selling new movies for a few weeks," said a salesperson at CK Tang Enterprise, who preferred to remain anonymous. "We were given an extension to clear our stock but I'm not sure how much longer we have."

Retailers have been left wondering whether this latest move will lead to stricter enforcement of copyright laws, or if the latest round of warnings is "just for show".

A spokesperson for the Royal Brunei Police Force said their main task would be enforcing the warnings handed out by the Municipal Board.

"There is no operation targeting pirate retailers at the moment, but the police can at any time perform spot checks on these shops to see if they are complying with the law," he said.

From time to time, authorities have raided vendors and ordered them to dispose of all infringing material only to see the items crop back up in stores within a matter of weeks. A survey by the Recording Industry of Malaysia in October 2011 counted some 50 retail outlets offering pirated movies, music and software in the form of DVDs, CDs, and VCDs.

US-based anti-piracy watchdog, International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), said Brunei remains stuck in a complaint-based system, with local authorities unwilling to terminate trading licenses of pirate retailers.

In a report published last February, the IIPA lambasted authorities for providing weak deterrents for copyright violators and lamented the sluggish court process which takes several months to resolve a few copyright cases.

"The penalty structure is extremely low (both in terms of imprisonment and fines), so even in successful cases, there will be no deterrent effect," stated the IIPA. The maximum penalty for copyright infringement is six months' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.

The report from IIPA lead to Brunei being placed on the US Trade Representative Office (USTR) "watch list" of intellectual property rights (IPR) violators for the fourth year.

The news, while not unexpected, puts pressures on Brunei to quickly improve the apparatus to reduce its "high piracy and counterfeiting rates", if they want to be part of an Asia-Pacific free trade pact, known as the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Parties of the trade agreement — currently being negotiated by the US, Brunei, Singapore, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — will have to meet "strong standards" of IPR protection and enforcement.

The USTR noted that Brunei had made progress to enhance its status as a supporter of IPR by setting up a patents office and the Bruneian Authors and Composers Association which collects royalties for local artistes. The Brunei Times