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Singapore implicated as piracy hub

The city-state has been a success story in fighting pirated movies, but an industry association warns that Singapore could just be shipping the problem out of the country.

Singapore has been a success story in fighting pirated movies, but an industry association warns the city-state could just be shipping the problem out of the country.

"Singapore is the third lowest in terms of losses due to piracy in Asia-Pacific," said Michael Ellis, vice president and regional director of the Motion Picture Association, a U.S.-based film industry rights advocate.

But he warned that Singapore acts as a transit center for pirated DVDs produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. About 13 percent of counterfeit seizures made in the United Kingdom last year were shipped from the republic, he said.

Singapore has the busiest airports and seaports in Southeast Asia and serves as the region?s most important transport hub, so its role in pirated DVD redistribution is a byproduct of that.

According to statistics from the MPA, Singapore's domestic DVD piracy losses in 2002 totaled $8 million, dwarfed by losses of $168 million in China and $110 million in Japan.

Some years ago, visitors at the big tech-oriented shopping mall of Sim Lim Square could openly buy pirated movies and software from any number of shops. But police crackdowns drove the business underground, and today buyers have to know where to look.

"Singapore has a strong domestic demand for pirated goods and about 15 percent of the country?s entertainment-related goods are pirated," he said. However, the situation has improved enough that two years ago, the MPA removed the island-state from its primary watch list of Asian piracy hotbeds.

To step up its war against piracy, the MPA has unveiled a $150,000 cash carrot for public information leading to the successful raids of illegal DVD pressing plants in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Piracy is a multi-headed monster but its biggest head is replication, so we are moving to 'chop off' this particular problem," Ellis said.

Asia-Pacific's piracy rates and losses (2002)
Country Piracy rate Losses in millions

    8%     $34  

    91%     $168  
  Hong Kong

    25%     $29  

    60%     $75  

    90%     $28  

    8%     $110  

    25%     $27  

    75%     $42  
  New Zealand

    8%     $4  

    95%     $12  

    80%     $30  

    15%     $8  

    44%     $42  

    70%     $26  

    100%     $7  
Source: Motion Picture Association
While the threat of DVD piracy is worsened by Internet file-sharing programs that allow people to exchange music and movies, the MPA has decided to focus on the crackdown on DVDs for now, he said.

"Asia is still 12 to 24 months away from other problems such as the online P2P file sharing issues which are threatening the U.S.," Ellis said, referring to peer-to-peer sharing programs such as Kazaa.

There are scores of underground DVD factories around the Asia-Pacific, several of which could exist with the tacit consent of officials.

Asia has been under constant scrutiny by intellectual property rights watchdogs such as the MPA for being the breeding ground of pirated material. Last year, the region accounted for 87 percent of the 7 million pirated DVDs seized globally.

However, countries such as Singapore have recently stepped up its efforts to combat this issue in a bid boost trade ties with Western countries. In January, the city-state agreed to enforce copyright protection as part of a free trade pact inked with the U.S.

CNETAsia's Winston Chai reported from Singapore.