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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 May, 2005, 06:01 GMT 07:01 UK
Pakistan - copyright piracy hub

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Karachi

DVD shop
Pirate DVDs are available for just over $1
When Ameed Riaz - an enterprising young man from Karachi - bought EMI Pakistan from its parent company in England back in 1993, he probably had visions of becoming the country's music guru.

Not without reason. With exclusive rights to over 150,000 songs and other compilations, EMI Pakistan is the largest music archive in Pakistan.

But within two years, Mr Riaz was forced to shut down and seek an alternative living.

"Everything is pirated here," he says. "From software to audio to video, nothing escapes the pirates' cutlass."

Indeed, Pakistan has risen over the last 25 years to become a global hub of audio and video piracy.

International piracy watchdogs currently rank the country in the world's top 10 pirate nations.

They say Pakistan will continue to climb the piracy charts unless drastic measures are adopted to put an end to illegal copying.

Trade sanctions risk

In a letter to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz last year, the International Federation for Phonographic Industries (IFPI) said illegal replication facilities in Pakistan were doubling their copying capacity every 18 months.

The scale of such operations has already reached staggering proportions.

What never ceases to amaze foreign visitors to Pakistan is that the country's big DVD and CD shops are full of perfectly packaged - but pirated - goods.

According to the IFPI, Pakistani replication facilities are producing in excess of 230 million copies a year.

Khalid Jan Mohammed
For as long as Pakistanis want to watch cheap movies, there will be piracy
Khalid Jan Mohammed

Given that the country's local consumption is only about 25 million discs, the IFPI concludes that the rest are being exported across the world.

The organisation estimated in 2003 that Pakistani pirates were exporting more than 13 million CDs and DVDs to 46 countries every month. Since then the figure has gone up, it believes.

Global anti-piracy bodies are hoping that the coming into effect of an international agreement called TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) on 1 January this year may force a change in the situation.

Pakistan is a signatory to TRIPS and risks trade sanctions from Western nations if it fails to honour its obligations under the treaty.

Government officials point to tighter customs control at airports which they say have led to a decline in air shipments.

But custom officials argue the change may prove to be merely cosmetic - the bulk of the illicit trade is conducted via land or sea routes.

Pessimism

Pakistani investigators name Dubai, Nepal and India as the three major transit countries for illicit DVDs originating from Pakistan.

Their pessimism is shared by Khalid Jan Mohammed, one of the leading players in Pakistan's CD and DVD business.

PAKISTAN PIRACY
Pirate DVD fetches $1 in Pakistan, $10 abroad
Over 13m pirate copies exported a month
About 230m replica discs made every year
Domestic piracy market worth $27m a year
Annual cost to copyright holders - at least $2.7bn
IFPI estimated figures

Sitting in his sparsely furnished office on one of Karachi's busiest roads, Mr Mohammed denies that his company - Sadaf CD - is involved in piracy.

But few would be convinced.

"Look, my friend, necessity is the mother of invention," he says. "For as long as Pakistanis want to watch cheap movies, there will be piracy."

The international community can go hang, he says.

Mr Mohammed has been in the business for 22 years and his speech - laced with expletives of all kinds - bears testimony to his street-smart credentials.

His powerful connections in the Pakistani administration are almost legendary, which perhaps explains why moving against him and other big players in the business is so hard.

"Alcohol was banned over 25 years ago, but you name a brand that is not available in Pakistan," he argues.

Just like the alcohol market had influential customers who kept it going, he says, so does the piracy bazaar.

Huge profits

"Western diplomats buy these pirated DVDs. Many of them have become my personal friends in the process," he says.

Ameed Riaz
Ameed Riaz: "Nothing escapes the pirates' cutlass"
Mr Mohammed argues that if the West really wants to stop piracy in Pakistan, it needs to convince international distributors to lower their royalty charges.

"Pakistanis have become so addicted to cheap entertainment that they will not pay beyond what they already are," he says.

What they are paying now can perhaps never lure Western distributors into treating Pakistan as a viable market.

Throughout Pakistan, the latest movie is available on DVD for just over $1. The price drops to below $1 if the purchase order exceeds 10.

While these prices may not be good enough to attract the Western distributor, there is plenty in it for the pirates.

The Pakistani domestic market alone generates some $27m every year - and those are just one-tenth of the total bootleg CDs and DVDs made in Pakistan.

The rest go overseas, where DVDs fetch on average about $10 each, still less than the licensed price. But even at this low price pirate copy exports from Pakistan are costing copyright holders about $2.7bn a year.

According to Khalid Jan Mohammed, it is the only business in the country where profit margins can be four to five times the cost.

"You try and stop this," says Mr Mohammed.

We will soon be publishing another feature on piracy in Pakistan, examining its proliferation inside Pakistan and its implications for global trade.




SEE ALSO:
Studios back DVD release rethink
21 Apr 05 |  Entertainment
Music industry extends piracy war
13 Apr 05 |  Entertainment
Pair convicted of internet piracy
16 Mar 05 |  Technology


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