Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 12:09 UK

Piracy 'rife' at Bollywood stalls

By Anna Cunningham
BBC Asian Network, London

For Bollywood fans, actors such as Amitabh Bachan - affectionately known as "the Big B" - are household names.

Police and trading standards officers at a stall
Those involved in organised crime are behind the bootlegs, police say
The Indian films, usually with a theme involving star-crossed lovers, have a global audience.

But the industry is being hit by piracy, and in the UK, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) estimates 70% of DVDs found on sale in markets and stalls are fake, compared to only 5% of Hollywood films and music.

On a busy shopping day in Southall in west London, Bollywood music blasts out from the front of several shops.

Walking past the sellers of sweet-smelling corn snacks, fruit and veg or brightly-coloured saris, you find yourself not too far from stalls offering Bollywood DVDs and CD soundtracks.

In the past year trading standards officers and the police have closed down at least seven shops in Southall and raided warehouses where they have found multiple DVD burners.

However information keeps coming in that pirated copies of the latest new Bollywood blockbusters - just out in cinemas - are on sale.

Flimsy wrappings

"The people behind the production of this piracy are the main people involved in organised crime," says Mohammed Tariq as he picks up a DVD of Sarkar Raj - one of the latest Bollywood films.

Mr Tariq is a senior trading standards officer for Ealing Council and also works for the BPI to try to combat piracy.

A stall with pirated DVDs
The latest Bollywood blockbusters appear for sale within days of release
Doing a spot-check on one stall, they seize nearly 300 DVDs and CDs.

At first glance the stall looks genuine, with real DVDs on display.

But behind a small counter, with room for only one person, they find boxes of pirated discs, in flimsy wrappings and fake covers.

For a small stall, it is quite a find. Sgt Shahid Malik from the Metropolitan Police in Ealing says temptation is easy for those who want to make money.

"A pirate copy costs the stallholders around 70 or 80 pence. They then sell three or four 10, whereas the original costs about 15 to 20. If I'm being honest, the copies - we've reviewed some of them - are not bad."

Profits hit

Sgt Malik says it is often people who move to Britain wanting to live a better life and make some money who end up fronting the stalls.

But he believes they are only paid about 30 a day, and the real masterminds are mass producing DVDs elsewhere.

Mohammed Tariq with some of the recovered DVDs
They've got spotters on street corners. People will know we're out
Mohammed Tariq (pictured)
Trading Standards, Ealing

Industry experts say it is impossible to put a financial figure on how much piracy is costing the industry, but one Bollywood producer describes piracy as "daylight robbery".

Pranab Kapabia from film producer Eros, which has just released Sarkar Raj featuring the Bachan family, says that when it releases a film, pirated copies will be on sale a few days later.

He estimates piracy is costing his company 50% of an individual film's potential profits, and raids on stalls, he says, are a drop in the ocean.

"You can see there's a market," says Mr Tariq - because as police handcuff the stallholder, shoppers continue to mill around, with some even picking up DVDs asking if they are for sale.

Trading standards officers close the stall but Mr Tariq says although they will take away his stock, question him and organise other raids, the word will get around quickly.

"They've got spotters on street corners. People will know we're out."

Undeterred, the spot-checks go on.

"How many times have I been here and warned you," says Mr Tariq to another stallholder, as he starts again to trawl through hundreds of DVDs, checking labels.

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