Sunday, May 11, 2008

Quiapo's Illegal DVD Trade is Dying

Quiapo's Illegal DVD Trade is Dying

Angelo Gutierrez

Despite the brazen display of fake movies in Quiapo district, anti-piracy agencies of the government believe the illegal DVD trade in the notorious district of Manila is steadily declining.

“Ngayon pa lang we already know. We can see in the inventories that the amount of discs is getting fewer,” Eduardo Manzano, Optical Media Board (OMB) chairman, told

Last May 2, or a week after the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released its Special 301 Report, which specifically mentioned Quiapo's notoriety for selling counterfeit and pirated merchandize, visited this bustling area of Manila.

The intersection of inner streets of Bautista and Hidalgo, across from Quiapo Church, is where dozens of retail stores of pirated movies and music, in the form of DVD and VCD, are concentrated.

At least a dozen stalls are lined up on the streets, and hundreds more stalls are cramped in at least three two-story buildings on Bautista and Hidalgo streets.

At the end of Bautista street, or a few meters away from the fake DVD, VCD stores that are mostly selling pornographic movies, is a police community precinct.

Told of the scene in Quiapo, Manzano said the pirated DVDs being sold in Quiapo today are mostly old titles or have low audio and visual quality.

This, he said, is because of the government's success in blocking the resources of the illegal traders by conducting hundreds of raids in 2007.

Based on OMB records, a total of 2,526 operations in 2007 resulted in the confiscation of 4.8 million units of fake optical discs and the filing of 22 criminal complaints with the public prosecutor.

Manzano said that while fake optical discs is not the Philippine National Police's (PNP) responsibility, it can arrest fake DVD traders for selling pornographic materials.

The OMB chief cited corruption as one of the reasons for some erring policemen's inaction against pornographic materials in the country.

"There will always be corruption. With illegal money, there will always be corruption. So that's one of the problem," Manzano said.

Manzano, however, clarified that the PNP has been an active partner of the OMB, in fighting optical media piracy in the country. He said policemen usually tag along during OMB raids.

Aside from Quiapo, the USTR mentioned Greenhills in San Juan City; Metrowalk Mall in Mandaluyong City, Makati Cinema Square in Makati City, and Binondo district in Manila as the havens of counterfeit products.

Technology killing pirated CD business

The Philippines maintained its spot, along with 35 developed and developing countries, on the ordinary watchlist of the USTR.

The status quo standing is being treated by the Intellectual Property (IP) Philippines as "another benchmark" for the country's campaign against all forms of product piracy.

IPP is the lead coordinating agency of the National Committee on Intellectual Property Rights (NCIPR), where OMB and the PNP are members. It was created in 2005.

"Another benchmark to measure the progress of the Philippines' anti-piracy campaign is its status on the Special 301 Report. For three consecutive years now, the country has been on the ordinary watch list. The country was removed from the Priority Watch List in 2006," IPP Director General Adrian Cristobal Jr. said.

Cristobal agrees with Manzano that optical media piracy is nearing its end in the Philippines. Cristobal said a concerted effort of concerned agencies and the Filipino consumers "can really solve the piracy problem."

Manzano's opinion, however, was a little more creative.

"Eventually with the computer, there will be less need for physical products (DVD, VCD) on the streets because again, all you have to do is access the Internet," he said.

However, Manzano said the rapidly developing technology has also weakened the Optical Media Act of 2003, which he said needs to be amended to become "proactive" to be able to "run parallel with the technology development."

He said the OMB and the IPP are pushing for the amendments to the law to "plug holes that the syndicates are trying to create."

"We have a technical working group putting together amendments. We have asked the House and the Senate. When the optical media law was being created, we did not foresee how technology will develop. The law became obsolete with the technology development," Manzano said.

Internet downloading

Manzano said movie and music downloading through the Internet is the "new frontier" of piracy. He said with Internet downloading, "everybody has the capacity and the potential to become a pirate."

An Internet pirate only needs a computer, a fast broadband connection and a DVD burner. With the absence of a law, home-based Internet piracy is allowed "if you don't intend to gain from it financially by virtue of retail."

Manzano said Internet downloading can also phase out the trade of fake DVDs in the country. He said that based on the fora hosted by OMB, movie lovers prefer to download clearer copies from the Internet instead of going to the congested Quiapo district.

"In the future, that will be the National Telecommunication's problem," he said, explaining that a product of Internet downloading becomes the OMB's responsibility only after it is burned to a DVD.

In 2007, 1.2 billion movies were downloaded for free in the United States through the Internet, Manzano said. Internet users also download free games, e-books, and music, he added.

Cristobal said the Philippines doesn't have the capability or infrastructure to control piracy on the net, because of the absence of a law against Internet piracy.

He said the IPP is now pushing for the amendments of certain provisions of the Intellectual Property Code, "which would make our laws more responsive to the current needs of the Filipinos."

Among the bills, he said, is the Internet Treaties that was ratified by Senate in 2002.

"The important provisions of the Internet Treaties, particularly on digital rights management, are now in the process of being incorporated into the Copyright Law, which will result in the criminalization of copyright infringement on the Internet," he said.

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