Pirated dics thrive on demand

As long as there is a demand for pirated discs, the illicit business will persist.

As long as there is a demand for pirated discs, the illicit business will persist.

FOR bootlegged old classics or latest films, the place to check them out is the black market.

Obviously.

Pirated Digital Video Dics (DVDs) or Compact Discs (CDs) can cost as low as RM4 each — even lower if you buy more.

While some commercial centres in the city are said to be popular venues for pirated dics, such items are allegedly found at almost all shopping malls.

Doing pirated CDs and DVDs is good business although it used to be better. But so long as there’s a demand for cheaper alternatives, the illicit industry will continue to thrive, according to an ex-vendor.

His small shop had been raided before but everytime it happened, the first thing that came to his mind was not the unsavory prospect of going to jail but how much he would lose in earnings.

During one swoop, the enforcement authorities confiscated under-the-counter copies of all the academy-winning blockbusters, Korean telenovelas, television drama series, music television videos, Walt Disney cartoons and songs – all within minutes.

Selling pirated CDs or DVDs can be lucrative. That’s why there are takers. But it’s a dodgy business – a constant cat and mouse game with the authorities.

Take the example of reformed vendor Robin (not his real name). He went to Singapore to work after completing Form Five. In 2009, he came back to Kuching and found it quite tough getting a job.

It was while job-hunting that he got in touch with old friends and went clubbing with them.

Then one day, a friend in the pirated discs business offered him a job with the prospects of earning RM4,000 in commission a month on average. Some seven years ago in Kuching, that was a tidy sum. He would give half to his parents to help them out.

Later, not contented with being just an employee, he negotiated with his boss for a share – albeit a small one – in the business.

His family and his girlfriend knew about it and were worried for him but there wasn’t much they could do to dissuade him.

“I needed to eat and pay the bills, you know. There wasn’t much choice,” he recalled.

After running the business for five years, Robin quit due to problems over profit-sharing. He did not get any bonus and commission for a year.

The thought of quitting had, in fact, crossed his mind earlier. He decided it was time he left because he could foresee the pirated CDs business would be affected by the advent of more advanced technology that delivers a world of contents — apps and games, latest online movies and other related technologies.

Moreover, Robin realised he had to look to a better future rather than depending on an uncertain livelihood.

He shared that one of his periodical errands was to go to his boss’ house to ‘burn’ CDs and order stocks.

According to him, a pirated disc sells for RM5 from a production outlay of about RM2.50 each. The price covers costs of electricity and the disc that comes with good quality surface paper, printing and packaging.

A computer with two monitors is used to burn the CDs. Each monitor can accommodate five CDs at each burning session.

As for the blue ray disc copy, it fetches RM17 each from a production capital of RM7. An original blue ray disc costs more than RM100.

Robin said after the shop ordered the production materials, he would meet the supplier at a designated public place during the day to collect so as not to arouse any suspicion

 

Special software

Burning discs requires a special software and a hacker software. The hacker software, also called the ‘hammer locker’ software, is for breaking the security codes of some original discs to enable copying.

“It actually takes longer time to break the code than to copy,” Robin said.

Asked where they got all the movies to copy, he said from various sources – such downloading from the Internet, copying from original discs or obtaining from appointed suppliers.

He added that there were others who got the movies from cinemas, mostly through “inside jobs.”

“It’s not our job to do illegal recordings in cinemas. Moreover, it’s not possible to bring our video camera in without being noticed by the cinema staff.”

According to Robin, some suppliers have many branches, including at shopping malls.

Everyone knows each other in the business and would inform one another of what he calls the ‘winds’ of the operation.

Most operators have licence to sell original discs. The licence fee is paid every month.

At the same time, some licence-holders also alledgedly sell illegal discs.

Robin said suppliers usually hired informers – reportedly at RM300 a month. He pointed out that the problem with informers was that they may resort to giving out fake information just to show they were doing their part.

They (informers) would sometimes raised a false alarm, spreading the word that a raid was imminent but nothing happened, he said, adding that very often when there was a big raid being actually mounted, “no one would inform us.”

It is understood that some ‘official’ operations had to be held once in a while because Key Performance Indicator (KPI) standards had to be met. In some bigger cases, documents had to be produced in court.

Asked how informers were appointed, he chuckled: “The bone doesn’t go to look for the dog. It’s the hungry dog that looks for the bone.”

On how pirated discs syndicate normally operated, Robin alleged  arrangements would be made to look for stocks and burn discs. The ‘small holders’ would get a commission and some share of the profit.

He said collection of stocks would be done at different locations and different times to avoid detection, adding that this was seldom carried out at night so as not to give rise to suspicion.

On the earnings, Robin revealed the shop could earn an average of RM30,000 a month. During the good times between 2010 and 2013, they occasionally raked in RM70,000 a month.

He noted that the best time was somewhere towards 2010 after the demise of Michael Jackson. Back then, Robin could earn up to RM7,000 commission in a day. For many months, the super pop star’s songs and music TV video collections were in great demand.

Robin said the main reason people bought pirated CDs was that they were much cheaper, yet the quality was almost as good as the originals’.

“Some pirated copies — three to four discs — sell for as low as RM10,” he added.

Now that he’s having a proper job, his family and girlfriend can have peace of mind.

“I no longer have sleepless nights, worrying about him and our uncertain future,”his girlfriend said.

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