Friday, July 10, 2009

Guilty of buying pirated DVDs?

DVDsEvery time I read the legal warning on  intellectual property violation  or one of those anti-piracy advertisements which precedes a movie on a pirated DVD, I can’t help but smile with irony. I wonder how many people actually get frightened by the message and feel remorse soliciting such illegal products?

Recently, a friend posted an article on counterfeit designer goods about how high fashion designers like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Prada, etc. are losing billions of dollars a year to copy cats around the world. My conscience is clear in this case because I don’t buy counterfeit designer bags or any fashion item for that matter. It’s not because I can afford the real thing since I obviously can’t. I just don’t really care about labels.

However, I’m guilty of buying pirated DVDs. It’s the same kind of violation no doubt. Do I feel guilty or remorse? I guess I don’t. Otherwise I would stop buying them. Should I feel guilty? To a certain extent, I should. But to what extent should it be and why not completely?

As someone who studied law, I should know that intellectual property should be protected. Artists, photographers, designers, writers and those in the entertainment industry spend a lot of time, energy and money to produce the work we get to enjoy every single day. They totally deserve to be paid for the royalty and copyright of what they have worked so hard for.

Having understood this, why don’t I care when I walk into a pirated DVD shop and start browsing through the latest season of my favourite TV series or movies? Sometimes, I even pay with my credit card. That goes to show how easy it is to purchase these goods.

In Malaysia, an original DVD costs about MYR50 (about US$14); some cost more, depending on the category (God knows how they come up with the categories and I could never understand them) and some less, if they are on sale or what they call best buy (they are often B-grade movies that don’t sell. So it figures why they are so cheap).

A pirated DVD copy costs about MYR10 (slightly more than US$3). In some shops, when you buy five, you get one free. There are others where they give you one of those Starbucks or Coffeebean card that comes with a stamp each time you buy one and once you collect all 10, they throw in some free copies for you. This is how organized and attractive their marketing skills have become.

Not only that, customer service is usually great too. Some shops will tell you in advance whether a copy is of good quality (you know, not the ones where they are being filmed in the cinema and you get silhouettes of spectators walking about in front of the screen) and if you’re not pleased with the quality, you can always get it exchanged, without the need for the receipt because they usually remember you.

So, of course, you continue to see loyal customers flocking into the shop every single day. What the movie industry is losing, the “pirates” are gaining.

One day, I bumped into a reputable and highly respected senior lawyer in Malaysia in one of these DVD shops. I know for a fact that this lawyer has made a rather comfortable living from his practice. I was surprised and shocked to see him there simply for two reasons.

One, I know him as a man with high moral integrity. Two, he’s rich enough to buy thousands of original DVDs if he wants to. So, I was naturally curious to find out why he would allow himself to commit such a crime.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask him and instead, I ask myself the same question. If you’ve been to my apartment, you’ll see that I have a whole cupboard filled with DVDs. Many would assume that all of them are fake copies. On the contrary, I would say that 25% are originals; most of them from France and some are bought through So in fact, I’ve spent considerably much more on these originals than the pirated ones since they are purchased in Euros or US dollars, in addition to the delivery and cargo charges.

So, can I afford to buy original DVDs and if yes, would I? Obviously I can and I would. But why is it then that I don’t buy original DVDs when I’m in Malaysia?

The answer is quite simple really. The fact that these pirated DVDs are so accessible, has made them the preferred choice. Of course for many people, the cost is an important factor but there are other people like that lawyer and myself who have chosen to participate in this illegal activity simply because we can. We get away with it because our law enforcement is so weak and corruption is so rampant that even people like us know that nothing will happen to us.

In all the developing countries I have been; Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Cambodia and Indonesia, pirated DVDs are as available as Malaysia. Here in Cambodia, the DVDs are even cheaper, selling at US$1.50 per copy. So it’s obvious that this illegal industry thrives in countries where the law enforcers are so corrupted that it makes it perfectly innocent to walk into a DVD shop without impunity.


I would take this further by saying that there is another reason for buying fake DVDs in Malaysia. Why would I pay for an original DVD when I know that any scene considered as violent, pornographic, vulgar or inappropriate by our Ministry of Information will be censored? Would you pay for a genuine Louis Vuitton knowing that the label is missing?

It’s completely ridiculous to watch a movie when the government has butchered its artistic, creative, political, cultural and religious integrity. Just imagine watching Schindler’s List without the scene of naked women in what was presumed to be the gas chamber, had the movie passed the censorship board. I wouldn’t have managed to watch great movies with some elements of eroticism like Betty Blue, Samsara and Fire (picture above) if I don’t get them in pirated copies.

OK, so I can still buy them from but would they get delivered to my door without the custom officer spying on them and confiscate what they understand as unsuitable pornographic materials? (In fact, this did happen once when some DVDs I ordered never arrive and since then I stopped buying them online.)

So yes, going back to my first question. To what extent should I feel guilty about buying these pirated DVDs when the government is too busy occupying themselves with frivolous matters like censorship than enforcing laws against piracy? You tell me.

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