Plans for a brace of initiatives to tackle DVD piracy were revealed Aug. 22 by an alliance of retailers and a member of parliament in the effort to fight against the U.K.'s £1.3 billion ($2.3 billion


LONDON (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Plans for a brace of initiatives to tackle DVD piracy were revealed Aug. 22 by an alliance of retailers and a member of parliament in the effort to fight against the U.K.'s £1.3 billion ($2.3 billion) illegal market.

Project Unity, a retailer-led project to highlight the worsening state of DVD piracy in the United Kingdom, is to launch a third phase over the weekend of Oct. 1-2, co-coordinator Iain Muspratt, chairman of Home Entertainment Corp., said.

"The evidence we are gaining at local level through Project Unity is proving extremely valuable," he said.

Muspratt, whose company owns the country's number two rental chain ChoicesUK, said that fully collated data from phase two of the project had revealed that counterfeit DVDs were available from 93.5% of the 170 locations surveyed.

Staff from a range of retail outlets including Blockbuster, HMV, Virgin, Woolworth, Global Video and Choices sought out sellers of counterfeit product at markets and elsewhere over July 9-10.

They were able to buy a range of DVDs including "Madagascar," which had not been released theatrically at the time, and hardcore pornography, which is restricted by law to licensed sex shops in the United Kingdom.

Muspratt said Project Unity was writing to selected property owners about the problem adding that the first letter he had sent to the Ministry of Defense produced a very comprehensive result.

"The market in question was held on MOD property," he said. "It was raided in a joint operation by Cambridgeshire police and Trading Standards officers, accompanied by the county councilor responsible for that sector of the county council's responsibility. Not only were people arrested at the market but a number of homes were raided consequently."

Muspratt added that he wants licensing authorities to help stamp out the widespread trade in pirate DVDs in public houses and clubs. He wants the industry to ask the bodies that license pubs and clubs to make it a condition of licenses that no counterfeit product may be sold on the premises of license holders.

Project Unity estimated that the pirate market is now worth £1.3 billion ($2.3 billion) annually in the United Kingdom and that there are more than 2.25 million copies of "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" and two million copies of "War of the Worlds" in circulation.

Meanwhile, with more than one million people expected to attend car trunk sales over the Aug. 27-29 holiday weekend, a Conservative Member of Parliament on Aug. 22 announced plans to crack down on the criminal gangs that use the markets to sell pirate DVDs and other goods.

The overall trade in fake goods in the United Kingdom is estimated to be worth £9 billion ($16.2 billion) per year and to cost the government around £2 billion ($3.6 billion) in lost tax revenue.

John Whittingdale, M.P. for Maldon and Chelmsford East and chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, is to introduce a private members bill the week of Aug. 22 that will require market organizers to keep a register of the names, addresses and vehicle numbers of traders that can then be used by trading standards officers as part of their intelligence-gathering system.

Organizers would face a fine of £5,000 ($9,000) and up to six months imprisonment for failing to keep a formal register of sellers.

Whittingdale described the proposed Occasional Sales Bill as a "light touch and proportionate response" to an increasingly serious problem.

"This is the equivalent of the U.K.'s total planned investment in primary schools for the next year," he said of the trade in fake goods. "Around a quarter of counterfeits are currently bought at markets and car [trunk] sales. Every weekend up and down the country, criminal gangs are infiltrating popular car [trunk] sales and other markets. They are making a fortune from the sale of fake goods, of which many are poor quality and some are downright dangerous -- with no rights of redress for consumers."

Lavinia Carey, chair of the Alliance Against Intellectual Property Theft -- a coalition of trade groups from the creative business -- and director general of the British Video Assn., added that there is growing evidence that organized crime has moved into counterfeiting "as a low risk, high profit, way of making money and laundering funds."

The bill, which has support in all political parties, is set to receive its second reading on Oct. 14, as soon as Parliament returns from its summer recess.

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