Rampant movie piracy in the Asian-Pacific region cost western film producers more than $718 million in lost revenue in 2003, up from $574 million in 2000, the Motion Picture Assn. (MPA) said Dec. 3.

BANGKOK (Reuters) -- Rampant movie piracy in the Asian-Pacific region cost western film producers more than $718 million in lost revenue in 2003, up from $574 million in 2000, the Motion Picture Assn. (MPA) said Dec. 3.

Representing seven major Hollywood studios, MPA said in a statement the number of pirate DVDs seized at the initiative of the group in 14 Asian-Pacific countries and Hong Kong surged to more than 16 million in 2003 from zero in 1998.

About 84% of the pirate optical discs seized globally last year were confiscated in the region along with about 75 percent of pirate DVDs seized worldwide, MPA regional director Michael Ellis said.

The MPA listed varying movie piracy rates in the region, ranging from 8% in Australia to 100 % in Vietnam.

Ellis said China's 95% piracy rate in 2003, up from 88% two years earlier, was not so much a product of its lack of suppression of the illegal activity as from its policy of restricting the number of foreign movies screened.

"China only allows 20 foreign films to be shown publicly annually in the country, and last year 15 of them were Hollywood movies," he said.

MPA members lost an estimated $178 million of potential revenue in China and $147 million in Japan last year because of piracy problems, Ellis said.

"Piracy cost the Motion Picture Assn. over $3.5 billion last year, and I am afraid it will continue to rise. Certainly, some places have contained the problem and reduced it, but in other places the problem is increasing," he said.

MPA said it assisted police in conducting nearly 13,000 raids in Asia-Pacific in 2003, initiated almost 9,100 legal actions and was responsible for the seizure of about 44 million illegal discs.

"We have to appeal to the public to recognize and reject the criminal behavior. If we can reduce and stop piracy, the whole industry will continue to thrive and grow."

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