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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 November, 2003, 12:01 GMT
Bangkok's software piracy battle
BBC ClickOnline's Richard Taylor investigates how Thailand is faring in its fight to stop the counterfeiting of music, films and software.

Crushing pirated CDs
Thailand has tried to crush the counterfeiters
For years Bangkok has being known as the piracy capital of the world. There is even a museum of counterfeit goods to show off some of the booty seized in law enforcement raids.

Among the fake football shirts, designer sunglasses and mobile phones are the ubiquitous CDs. It is damaging the technology industry in Thailand and is something the Thai Government is keener than ever to address.

The public relations offensive is in full swing. A video has been produced that is designed to show the cost of piracy to the nation and to trumpet the government's successes in dealing with it.

It says raids on optical disc production plants are crushing the problem at its source whilst vigorous enforcements on retail outlets is stymieing distribution.

Slick operation

ClickOnline decided to put these claims to the test. Wearing a secret camera I went to one of Bangkok's piracy hotspots.

We were in good company, there were dozens of other potential customers.

Within minutes I was being approached by eager suppliers of music, films, software and games. I was handed booklets of titles to choose from, some of which have only just arrived at the cinema.

If you talk about piracy, you're really talking about respecting intellectual property rights, and to educate people and companies about these rights
Jonathan Selvasegaram, Business Software Alliance
You only get to see the covers so there is no hard evidence of illicit activity should the police arrive.

Once I had decided which titles to buy and negotiated in a bit of friendly haggling, the young sales assistant ran off to a nearby van or warehouse to collect the actual disc.

I was not allowed to accompany her.

A few minutes later she returned and delivered the goods. All this seemed very open and good-natured, a far cry from the criminal underworld and the syndicates which run these operations.

But law enforcement specialists say every last detail is planned and there is a lot more going on than meets the eye.

"Generally speaking you'll have a person who is acting as the salesperson who may be 19 or 20 years old," explained Ed Kelly, head of anti-piracy enforcement at the law firm Tilleke and Gibbins International.

"The reason for this is that these are organised criminal syndicates, they know what the law is and they will hire young people because they know that young people cannot be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Police lookouts

Mr Kelly said the syndicates also employ people as spotters, whose job is to look out for police coming to either inspect or raid a particular shop or stall.

Pirated software
Pirated software can be found in many parts of Asia
These spotters even have photographs of people known to be involved in the copyright industry.

"We had a situation where we had raided a particular shopping centre so often that the spotters had come to know our personnel by facial recognition," said Mr Kelly.

"They could see the person coming and as soon as the person set foot inside the shopping centre, they would physically close the shop and lock it so that we could not enter and conduct a raid."

Potential customers see just one side: extraordinarily cheap products. Music, movies and games may be most popular, but it is the software industry which is particularly vulnerable.

Lost revenue

Programs that would normally cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars, are being ripped off and sold for next to nothing.

All this, of course, is taking place at street level. The more insidious side of piracy here, as elsewhere, is happening up above, in businesses big and small.

"We don't expect to be able to immediately reduce piracy tomorrow," admitted Jonathan Selvasegaram of the Business Software Alliance which campaigns against piracy.

"It is an effort that has to be addressed on a long-term basis. If you talk about piracy, you're really talking about respecting intellectual property rights, and to educate people and companies about these rights."

After our little expedition, ClickOnline came away with hundreds of dollars of software.

About 75% of all Bangkok's business software used is illegal, costing software makers more than $80 million a year in lost revenue.

Why is it 'OK' to nick software?
07 Jul 03  |  Magazine
Thailand's struggle with goods piracy
13 Dec 01  |  Asia-Pacific
Software piracy on the wane
03 Jun 03  |  Technology
The high price of piracy
03 Apr 03  |  Technology

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