Australian Drug Mafia to Sell Pirated DVDs?

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If you ask any Australian what the most annoying thing is about TV shows or movies, a common response is that it can take a long time for things popular in the US and UK to make it 'down under'. Apparently, the Mafia has picked up on this, as they have started selling pirated movies and TV-shows on the streets, or have they?

When you get in any sort of reporting, you start to see the same sort of stories crop up. We’ve been writing for almost 3½ years, and even in that short time, and in as narrow a field as I keep an eye on, we see the same things crop up. In that way, it’s like fashion, except instead of cycles of 20-30 years, its often only 3-4. One such example comes courtesy of yesterday’s The Australian. Under a headline of “Organized Crime gets into Video Piracy” is a number of claims.

“DVD and other piracy can now be more profitable than drug trafficking,” AFACT’s director of operations Neil Gane told The Australian. “That’s why crime organizations are going into it.”

It might not sound familiar to some of you, but a similar claim was made some four years and 9500 miles away, in the UK. Back then, during a campaign called “piracy is a crime” they made similar allegations (see the top of this page, court. wayback machine), allegations that didn’t stand up to scrutiny back then, when we first encountered them.

Do these? Well, the article in question makes use of the infamous LEK study, and even the MPAA knows it’s inaccurate (pdf). So, it’s not exactly off to the best of starts. Unfortunately, that’s also the only start. Despite a trawl of the websites and press releases put out by the two organizations (the other being Foxtel), there is only one recent link (doc) between drugs and ‘piracy’ and that is the prosecution of ONE MAN just over a month ago, for cultivating cannabis, and what is described as ‘multiple copyright offenses’.

So, we’ve gone from one guy, with 3,300 movies+TV shows and growing some cannabis (total punishment, 7 month suspended sentence, and a 2 year good behavior order) to Organized Crime. Despite the utter failure of the similar campaign in the UK years earlier (where the only thing remaining of the campaign is the ‘You wouldn’t steal a…” advert) Australia seems determined to try and make it work.

However, there is a plus side, in that AFACT have established a market price it believes consumers feel to be the worth of a DVD. In all their estimations of yearly capacity, they give a ‘street value’ of roughly $5AUS, which is about $4.77 US (3 Euros, or £2.40). In this they differ from the campaign in the UK, where the value given was some 20 times greater. In this, while telling lies, they are also more truthful.

In the end, no ‘criminal gang’ will forego their drugs, weapons or other lucrative money-making operations for DVD piracy. The reasoning is as plain as it is simple. With drugs, or guns they have small, highly valuable goods that can’t be easily obtained elsewhere. As the world becomes increasingly connected, and peer-to-peer becomes simpler to use, more reliable, less time consuming AND more powerful, the potential returns on selling bootleg DVDs reduces, ask Tony. Ten years ago, people had dial-up, and hard drives were maybe big enough for 2-3 DVDs. Now you can buy terabyte hard drives, and even the TorrentFreak researcher, living in the middle of rural Georgia, 10 miles from the nearest shops, has an 8Mbit connection.

The reasons for comparisons become clear when you hear the comments of Foxtel’s head of Fraud, Mark Mulready (a ‘former police prosecutor and detective’), who told The Australian “Police should have all the same investigative tools to fight piracy they currently have for organised drug trafficking or money laundering,” so, as usual, it’s about not having to spend time and money on civil cases, but having the taxpayer foot the bill, and the ability to use law enforcement to patch their business model.

Rehashing failed campaigns is a sign that the industry has no new ideas, and is desperately trying to avoid dealing with the root of the problem , themselves and their greed. When even the police are so into ‘piracy’, that there are too many to prosecute, it’s time to stop sticking your head in the sand, and deal with the causes.

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