Pirates palm off cheap 'videoCDs' as DVD movies

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The Independent Online

Pirates are cashing in on the booming market for DVDs, the CD-sized discs that can hold an entire film, by selling lower-quality "VideoCDs" and making counterfeit copies of films yet to be released.

Pirates are cashing in on the booming market for DVDs, the CD-sized discs that can hold an entire film, by selling lower-quality "VideoCDs" and making counterfeit copies of films yet to be released.

The principal targets are Indian films, which are produced on discs that have no "region" - meaning they can be played on DVD players around the world.

But gangs in Eastern Europe and the Far East are also setting up their own DVD pressing plants, and passing off inferior products such as VideoCDs - which require two or more discs to hold a film - as DVDs, according to investigations by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact).

The pirates have been drawn to the business by the huge popularity of the hi-tech discs, which often retail for more than £15. Industry observers forecast that more than 16 million DVDs will have been sold in Britain before the end of the year, of which nearly 90 per cent will be DVD versions of films rather than software - a market worth more than £240m over the counter.

Formerly, counterfeiters used videotape as the main medium for piracy, producing high-volume but low-quality versions of films. However, the growing popularity of the DVD format, allied with falling sales and prices of videotapes, has forced them to move up the technological scale.

David Lowe of Fact said: "The remarkable thing is that it is Indian films which are the most pirated on DVD. Once the pirates have made a copy of one, then the world is their market."

Fact said that trading standards officers around the country were also seeing "limited" pirate copies of mainstream films arriving in Britain, which they believed had been made abroad - but the volume was expected to grow rapidly over the next six months.

"What we're really concerned about is that VideoCDs are being sold as DVDs - which is a real rip-off," said Mr Lowe. "VideoCDs are a lower picture quality than DVDs and it takes at least two discs to fit a film. But many DVD players can play them, which means that people may not realise they've been duped, especially if the person who sells them spins a line."

The films offered on VideoCDs stamped as DVDs are often pre-release versions of films from cinemas - but may consist of grainy recordings made with camcorders in the cinema and transferred to disc. Software for making VideoCDs is widely available, and CD duplication plants cost just a few thousand pounds to equip.

Trading standards officers also face the problem that telling a VideoCD from a DVD is impossible just by looking at them; the only giveaway is the extra discs needed to fit a film. VideoCDs should also be far cheaper than DVDs, as the technology dates to the early 1990s, and they produce pictures whose quality is nearly as good as most TV broadcasts.

The prime locations for pirated DVDs and VideoCDs are London, Leeds and Birmingham, because of their comparatively large Indian populations - although the North-east has also emerged as a particular target for VideoCD piracy.

Fact's greatest fear now is that organised crime will start buying DVD pressing plants to make sub-standard pre-release versions of films.

"Up to 18 months ago, it would have cost £1m for a DVD pressing line," Mr Lowe said. "But the Eastern Europeans seem to have developed some technology for making them. The worry is that it's going to get much worse next year."

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