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Page last updated at 07:11 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Bootleg trade in DVDs is booming

By Phil Kemp
1Xtra reporter

Bootleg DVDs
Some of the thousands of DVDs found in a house being used as a warehouse

It's reckoned the UK film and TV industry lost nearly 500m to piracy in 2007.

That's the budget of three Bond films.

1Xtra joined the police and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) on the trail of the illegal DVD sellers.

At the end of a two-week special campaign organised by FACT with the help of the Metropolitan Police, film studios and the government, 1Xtra joined officers on a raid of a house in north London.

From the outside, it looked just like any other terraced property in the area.

But no-one lived there.

It's what investigators call a distribution centre: a warehouse for the knock-off DVDs you see on sale on the high street or at car-boot sales up and down the country.

Hundreds of different titles were laid out methodically on the bedroom floor and stacked on shelves lining the four walls of the room.

Many of the films, like Madagascar 2 and Max Payne, had only just come out at the cinema.

A whole bedroom had been set aside just to store porn.

'Massive defrauding'

Some of the mainstream films had not been released yet and had stickers on the front signalling when they would be available, suggesting the sellers know they can sell for a premium.

Film release dates
50 million bootleg DVDs manufactured in UK last year
UK Film and TV industry lost an estimated 500m in 2007
Illegal film downloads cost industry an additional 53m
Source: FACT

"What we're seeing in this very average terraced house is the most organised crime that I've witnessed," said David Lammy MP, the minister for intellectual property who joined 1Xtra on the raid.

"It's serious, massive defrauding of the British film industry on a huge scale."

In the days leading up to the raid, investigators from FACT had identified Chinese DVD sellers leaving the property with distinctive red bags before selling them on the street.

They're a menace for trading standards officers like Simon Legg of the team in north London.

"I can remember the first complaint we got in the high street," he said when we joined them on patrol last Christmas.

"Now we're talking about proper organised, master-minded gangs coming out."

A year on, Simon says although they've brought a significant number of prosecutions, there are still an endless supply of discs for sale on the street.

He said: "These traders are not really scared of the average trading standards law that there is to prosecute them for selling fake DVDs."

With nearly 50 million counterfeit DVDs produced in the UK in 2007, Simon and his colleagues across the country have their hands full tackling the problem.

Illegal downloads

But increasingly, it's internet piracy which is troubling the TV and film industry, costing it an estimated 53m a year.

"Every single title just about released in the theatres, you will find these high quality copies appearing before the retail DVD is available and studios are very worried about it," said David Price from the internet consultancy, Envisional.

DVD Warehouse
This suburban home was used as a warehouse for bootleg DVDs.
He showed 1Xtra several versions of The Dark Knight in digital quality being shared via the Swedish bit-torrent website The Pirate Bay before it was available in the shops.

The copy 1Xtra watched had been shared by 10,000 people.

It's illegal in this country to download pirated films because, technically, it involves making a copy of them.

"We don't sell any content. We don't make any money out of people's content whatsoever," said Peter Sunde, one of the website's founders.

"We just allow private citizens to share content between them and we don't censor that."

However, next year, The Pirate Bay faces charges of conspiracy to break copyright law.

Prosecutors allege the website exploits copyright protected work through the use of online advertising.

"Those same copies you buy in the streets, which are generally camcorder copies of a film out in the cinema and therefore poor quality, are the same ones on the internet," said Kieron Sharp, director general of FACT.

You can hear the documentary Pirates of the High Street on Wednesday 10 December between 2pm and 4pm on the Max show on 1Xtra.

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