Thursday, September 9, 2004

There's The Rub / Still, Isle of Tortuga

There's The Rub
Still, Isle of Tortuga
by Conrado de Quiros
Inquirer News Service

First posted 10:12pm (Mla time) Sept 08, 2004

I DID see one unpleasant thing in the stalls that sold pirated DVDs in Quiapo last weekend. That was the presence among them of local titles. In the past, I used to see only movies starring Sharon Cuneta, Judy Ann Santos (I think) and various action ones. This time I saw Gil Portes' "A Beautiful Life" and Joel Lamangan's "Mano Po" and "Pamilya." "Imelda" was there as well, except that, as the vendors tipped, "it wasn't DVD yet, just a clear copy." I don't know what other Filipino movies are sold there. They weren't in all the stalls, only in some of them.

I draw the line at buying local stuff. That has been my policy all this time, and that has been the policy I've recommended to government all this time. That was the advice I gave Tito Sotto a couple of years ago when he asked to meet with me on the subject. He was then head of the Senate committee on intellectual property rights, which covered piracy. I said the only rational policy was to stop the pirating of local movies and CDs. You cannot stop piracy completely, that is a hopeless cause. The technology is there. You can no more bind the explosion in productive capabilities to old property rights than you can cage King Kong in the zoo. But you can at least curb, if not stop, the pirating of local movies and CDs.

You can do that by running only after those who sell pirated local movies and CDs. I'm sure you can appeal to the public's patriotic sentiments to not buy the pirated local stuff. I'm just as sure you won't find resistance, or cynical reaction, to cops swooping down on the pirates' lair and carting off bundles of pirated local movies and CDs. The public might even applaud them.

The justification for such a policy should be national interest and not moral scruple. The reason is simple: You make moral scruple the basis for running after people selling, or buying, pirated movies and music CDs, you have to run as well after those selling, or buying, pirated software. It's the same principle.

But you do the latter and the country will grind to a halt. The educational system will grind to a halt, the banks and courts will grind to a halt, the entire government will grind to a halt. That is because easily 99 percent of the computers in this country use pirated operating systems and pirated programs.

That includes the computers of the entertainers who are fulminating against piracy. That includes the computers of Bong Revilla, ex-Videogram Regulatory Board head and current senator, and Edu Manzano, ex-TV host and current board head. The day they are able to show their press statements are written on licensed Microsoft Word from computers booted with licensed Windows XP is the day I join their crusade without reservation. Otherwise, they're just being hypocrites.

Sotto's office did call me a couple of years ago to say a bill incorporating my suggestions (making the pirating of local movies and CDs, on ground of national interest, illegal and punishable by law) was being prepared. I don't know if it was ever finished, if it got to the floor of the Senate, or if it met with furious opposition from various lobbies. But clearly it hasn't been enacted, freeing Manzano to mount his movie antics in real life.

It is the only reasonable policy toward "piracy"--which I put in quotation marks because the GATT-WTO concept of intellectual property rights is itself piratical; at least the pirates of Tortuga stole from the rich, this one steals from the poor. More so now than ever. There are two new and compelling reasons why this is so.

The first is that the selling of pirated DVDs gives livelihood to the ragged urban denizens who might otherwise take to crime--this is not so, to anticipate the snide remarks of Bill Gates' representatives on earth--to bring food to the table. That is no mean feat particularly in these days of great want, and coming days of even greater want. The last thing we need is to add more unemployment to the country, particularly among the ranks of the Muslim poor in Metro Manila, who for some reason seem to have monopolized the retail trade in pirated DVDs. It's not a matter of preference, it's a matter of survival.

In fact, the last thing we need is government using our taxes to keep an office that exists to protect foreign interests. I don't mind that the portion of my pay I am forced to part with goes to supporting local artists, I do mind that it goes to protecting Paramount and 20th Century Fox.

The second is that, well, do you want to keep this country ignorant? Education is its own justification. The United States itself did not mind pirating British books to enlighten its nationals before 1776. If it hadn't done so, it might still be a British colony. I personally do not mind being reproduced all over the place (which I am), if that will improve people's minds. I'm shareware entirely, the spirit that happily still rules the Internet.

The explosion in DVD titles, which now include Hollywood classics as well as movies from other countries, is particularly welcome. My own take there is that this should help the more serious makers of local movies by enlarging the scope of their market. Currently, they have to cater to a market whose taste has been molded by Hollywood "blockbusters" and B action movies. The availability of the classic movies should raise the Filipino taste several notches higher, which should boost the chances of the Lino Brockas and Ishmael Bernals of this country peddling their wares.

Bong Revilla was just lucky, there is no political future in raiding the lost ark. Edu Manzano should really stop to think before he makes his next move. Or he may end up at the receiving end of his favorite barb in "Weakest Link." Which is: "Goodbye."

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the September 9, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

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