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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 17:42 GMT
Thailand's struggle with goods piracy
Counterfeit Rolex watches in Thailand
Software and DVDs have joined watches in the markets
By the BBC's Larry Jagan in Bangkok

Thailand is a shopper's paradise. There are cheap copies of almost every designer product ever made.

The street markets do a roaring trade selling items ranging from watches, clothes and dress accessories to music CDs, digital movies and computer software.

The market for pirate software is growing rapidly. DVDs and computer games are on sale on street stalls and in major shopping complexes.

Even monks come here for their software needs

Pirate software saleswoman Noi
The more notorious of these are Pantip Plaza, Fortune Towers and Seacon Square, where authorised computer dealers and the pirates compete for customers.

Digital films and videos sell for around 60% of the official price, computer games and software for about 50%.

The greatest discrepancy is on Microsoft software which sells for less than 10% of the retail price.

These massive savings attract a very large market.

In Bangkok it is not just foreign tourists who are buying the pirate products on sale in the major computer centres.

Billions lost

"Only one customer in 10 is a foreigner," said Suchai, a pirate DVD stall holder in Pantip Plaza.

The customers are aged from the very young to the over 70.

"Even monks come here for their software needs," said Noi, a saleswoman on another stall of pirate computer games.

Registered distributors in Bangkok selling computer software and DVDs estimate that pirate sales cost them more than 50% of their potential profit.

A streamroller is used to crush pirate goods
The Thai government is trying to crush piracy
More than $53m of potential revenue was lost last year from pirated versions of business software applications alone, according the Business Software Alliance in Bangkok. And this does not cover computer games.

Pirate CDs, videos, digital movies and computer software are costing manufacturers billions of dollars each year.

But neither government officials, producers nor consumer groups can put a more precise value on it.

"We've got no idea," said a government official in the commerce ministry who did not want to be identified.

Computer businesses also say they cannot estimate the losses for the whole of the industry - or even for one title.

Hard line in public

Government officials say that DVDs and computer games must be treated as luxury goods, especially in Thailand where the average income is low.

"If these products were only available at the official retail price, then there would only be very limited extra sales," said a Thai official.

This may be one reason that the Thai law enforcement agents do not seem to be very active in trying to stamp out the trade in pirate products.

we can never eliminate it completely. The best we can do is to find an accessible level of violation

Senior government official
"The police periodically seize fake goods that are on sale in the market places," said a local stall holder.

"But these are more likely to be designer clothes and leather bags," she said.

Publicly, the Thai Government is taking a hard line on the sale of pirated goods.

In July the Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, went to one of Bangkok's many night markets, One Night Bazaar, and told the stall holders that the selling of pirate films and videos must stop.

No elimination

This halted sales in the area for a while, but only temporarily - a week later the pirated videos and DVDs reappeared.

"The government is doing as much as possible," said a senior government official in the department for intellectual property rights in Thailand.

"But we can never eliminate it completely. The best we can do is to find an accessible level of violation."

Privately many businessmen are convinced that the government is not really committed to stamping out pirate production and sales.

Street scene
Locals and foreigners buy pirated goods
But government officials argue that the only way to really eliminate piracy is to attack it at source. And most of the pirate versions of CDs, videos, DVDs and computer games are not produced in Thailand.

Most of them are brought across the border from Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia and Laos, according to Thai officials. China and Taiwan are the other major sources of pirated goods.

"Malaysia is the main source of pirated DVDs, videos and computer games," a senior government official, who did want to be identified, told the BBC.

Lower prices

Analysts in South East Asia feel that manufacturers themselves must also take action to help stop piracy by introducing more sensible pricing policies.

This is something the makers and distributors of computer games in Thailand have realised.

In the past few months, as a result in the growth in the sales of pirated versions, they have begun to reduce their retail prices.

Many computer games are now selling at half the original price, making them now only marginally more expensive than the pirated versions.

The sales of genuine copies of computer games, which come complete with operating manuals, after-sales support and attractive packaging, have begun to rise substantially.

See also:

11 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thailand acts against counterfeiters
12 Dec 01 | Americas
Huge piracy ring raided
29 Jul 01 | Business
Software piracy on the rise
06 Jun 01 | South Asia
Clamp down on computer piracy
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