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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 13:32 GMT
Internet 'can tackle film piracy'
By Caroline Briggs
BBC News entertainment reporter

Film piracy costs the industry billions of pounds every year
The film industry must embrace the internet if it is to combat the growing threat of piracy, a leading figure in the DVD industry has said.

Alex Sparks, UK managing director of Blockbuster Video, was speaking at The European Film Piracy Summit in London.

He also said the industry should aim to release films at the cinema, on DVD and the internet at the same time.

The summit, organised by Screen International, was told piracy cost the industry $7bn (3.7bn) in 2003.

The profit margins the pirates make are huge so they will always be able to undercut the legitimate business
Dara MacGreevy, Motion Picture Association

Mr Sparks told the 100 delegates at the conference that the current piracy situation was "horrendous".

He said: "Because we have more than 700 sites around the UK, we have first hand experience of what it is like.

"Just this weekend I asked one of our managers to go and see if he could find illegal copies of The Incredibles, Shrek 2, and National Treasure within two hours.

"He got two of them, but couldn't get National Treasure because the man was sold out - he said he was happy to bring it for him next week though."

Mr Sparks said film studios should follow the lead of the music industry and look at ways of releasing films on the internet where they can be downloaded legitimately.

Cinema recording

He called for downloads, DVDs and VHS to be made available at the same time films are released in the cinema.

Mr Sparks added that all films should be released on the big screen in every country across the world at the same time.

Currently, most titles are released in the US first, before transferring across the Atlantic to Europe and the rest of the world.

This leads to movies recorded on camcorder in a US cinema appearing on the internet within a matter of days.

He said once a film had been released everywhere and on every medium, illegal copies ceased to be in big demand.

"The 'hot' titles are the ones that are not yet available and the consumers' point of view is understandable," Mr Sparks said.

Pirate copies of Alexander were on the streets before its UK cinema release

"It is the stuff that isn't yet released that people really want to see. It isn't hot property once something is out there."

But Marek Antoniak, managing director of Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, said while the window between cinema release and DVD release was "shortening", it was almost as close as it would get.

John Woodward, of the UK Film Council, warned delegates that piracy was the "biggest threat to the film industry".

He added that many jobs could be lost within 10 years if physical piracy - where DVDs are sold illegally - and online piracy were not contained.

He also said the price of legitimate DVDs - which can cost up to 17.99 - may be turning the public to pirate copies.

Pirate profits

"Pricing of DVDs is something that the industry never really talks about but maybe it is something that requires talking about," said Mr Woodward.

"I'm not saying DVDs are overpriced, I'm saying there is a public perception of that."

Dara MacGreevy, regional director of the Motion Picture Association, said: "The demographic of the pirate DVD buyer and the legitimate DVD buyer are similar, so it is not the case that these people do not have the money to buy the product.

"People always like to get something for nothing.

"The profit margins the pirates make are huge so they will always be able to undercut the legitimate business."

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