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FEATURE

VIDEO PIRACY

 

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If you want to see Brannaghís Frankenstein, Natural Born Killers, or any of the latest Hollywood blockbusters right now youíve got two choices; you can either jump on a 747 to the US, or if youíre a bit short this week, get down to your local car boot sale. Pirate video copies of movies that will not see the insides of UK cinemas for several months --  maybe never -- are freely available at many of the seven thousand boot sales held up and down the country every week, often costing no more than five or six pounds.

 

Video piracy is one of those apparently victimless crimes, itís been going on for as long as there have been video recorders, but according to Reg Dixon of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT); Ďpiracy is costing the UK film industry alone over £250 million each year, itís on the increase now that effective legislation has driven video piracy out of the high-street and into unregulated car boot sales and fly-pitchesí. Even so, itís still difficult for many people to reconcile lost box office receipts with real crime. But there are victims, the people who buy the movies for one. Most pirate videos are almost unwatchable, and the junk tape a lot of them are recorded on can do real harm to VCRs.

 

Piracy continues to thrive despite the determined best efforts of FACT; the police and local trading standards officials who have seized half a million counterfeit tapes so far this year. Street markets and car boot sales are raided regularly but, complains Reg Dixon Ďthe traders may receive little more than a ticking off, the judiciary still regard offenders as little more than errant barrow boysí. However, if convicted to the full extent of the law pirates can expect stiff fines, up to £5,000 and or up to two years imprisonment; there are even longer prison sentences for those who fall foul of other laws applicable to piracy.

 

Itís big business -- even a small scale copying operation can turn over £50,00 in a week -- in one undercover operation FACT recorded one street trader taking over £700 in just 17 minutes. FACT have also uncovered evidence that there are well established links between video piracy with organised crime and terrorism. Unfortunately for the authorities piracy is almost unstoppable, it ranges in scope from factory-sized operations with 150 or more copying machines working around the clock, to individuals running off a copy of the latest rental movie for their friends.

 

Copying video tapes is a reasonably simple business, all you need is two VCRs plus a set of copying leads. Itís all quite legal, provided you donít duplicate copyright material, but where do master recordings come from, and in particular those movies that havenít been released in the UK? In a few cases films that have been released on tape or disc in the US are imported ahead of their UK theatrical release. Once in the country a PAL copy is made using a standards converter VCR. In fact legitimate video copies of movies are made for a variety of purposes, including unfinished post production studio tapes which have found their way into the hands of pirates. Tapes made for airlines, distribution to private cinemas and overseas market have all been used as source material. Once a movie has gone on general release to cinemas itís prey to all kinds of chicanery; prints mysteriously disappear from projection booths overnight, projectionists have been known to make copies and quite a few master tapes have been shot on domestic camcorders, smuggled into movie theatres.

 

Even if lining the pockets of villains and depriving Hollywood moguls of a few bob doesnít worry you the quality issue should. Almost without exception pirate tapes are rubbish. Theyíre copied on domestic VCRs, and you can be sure they wonít be well-maintained stereo machines; at best a pirate tape will have a hissy mono soundtrack -- if youíre lucky -- and you can forget any thoughts about Dolby Surround. Even if the master recording was obtained from a cinema print, using a professional telecine machine (and thatís really not very likely...), then the finished tape will be a second-generation copy, though itís more likely to be three or more generations removed from the original. There will be a drastic loss of detail in the picture, giving it a fuzzy appearance, the colour signal will be unstable and full of noise, and thereís a better than even chance the synchronisation pulses, that keep the picture steady, will be shot to hell, making the picture jump or roll. Thatís a best case scenario. Itís more likely the master recording was dubbed from a illicitly obtained VHS copy, which itself is a second generation recording, so by the time it reaches the market stall itís four generations down the line. It gets worse, copies made using domestic camcorders will almost certainly be incorrectly exposed, and more often than not the soundtrack is made using the camcorderís own microphone; so if it was recorded in the cinema you may get accompanying sound effects from popcorn wrappers and the audience.

 

Thereís a very real possibility that youíll end up damaging your VCR with a pirate movie. Thereís no way of knowing what sort of tape the recording was made on, but you can be sure it wonít be fresh out of the box from a top-name manufacturer. The chances are it will be a cheap second grade import, maybe even from a rejected or recycled job lot; several cases of pirated childrenís cartoons over-recorded on hard-core porn tapes have been reported by distressed parents. Dust and contaminants on the tape can clog the heads in a VCR in seconds, leading to expensive repairs. If the tape turns out to be a dud, or it screws up in your VCR who are you going to complain to? Itís usually no good returning to the boot market to confront the seller, youíll be lucky to find them there two weeks running. Pirate tape vendors tend to move around, for obvious reasons. Local trading standards offices wonít have much sympathy for you either, in fact he best advice we can give is not to bother with them in the first place, buying a pirate tape could turn out to be a lot more expensive than youíve bargained for, and we promise you it wonít be worth watching!

 

 

REVIEWS

We all want to see the latest movies, and everyone is a sucker for a bargain but as we discovered after visiting several large car boot sales, pirate tapes are a real waste of money.

 

THE FLINTSTONES 

£5.00, Sunday car boot, Lakeside Thurrock, Essex

 

This is almost certainly a second or third generation dub, converted from a US laserdisc, judging by the logos during the intro sequence. The picture is fairly stable, though the letterboxing wanders in and out of the picture and the tape has a lot of dropout. Resolution is very poor with excessive streaking on highlights, itís so bad itís almost impossible to read the credits. The contrast range is very narrow, colours are dull, muted and very noisy. The soundtrack is barely audible and thereís an annoying  high-pitched whine in the background. The recording seems to have been made on a machine with an excitable automatic gain control as the level varies wildly. One of the more imaginative tape box inserts, complete with a Columbia Tristar logo, (even though itís an MGA/UA movie), and a potted review, prised from a magazine or newspaper.

 

Watchability               0

Collectability              0

 

 

FORREST GUMP

£6.00, Sunday car boot, Rainham, Essex

 

Not a lot of good, no sound. The recording appears to have been made using a camcorder, thereís a tell-tale time readout in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, though it doesnít appear to have been shot in a cinema; a spot of unauthorised overtime by a projectionist possibly. Picture quality is slightly better than average, this is probably only a third generation copy, but the lack of sound means itís simply not worth watching. The cassette inlay has a similar look and feel to the one used on the Flintstones -- it even has the same Columbia Tri-Star code, suggesting theyíre from the same source --  but this time the sleeve notes makes little or no sense.

 

Watchability               0

Collectability              0

 

 

THE LION KING

£5.00 Sunday car boot Lakeside Thurrock, Essex

 

Very sad! Cartoons sometimes fare better than normal movies in the copying process but this bright, vibrant and truly wonderful Disney creation has been reduced to a nasty looking blur by the pirates, and would be a big disappointment for any child unlucky enough to sit through it. Another very amateurish effort with the letterboxing badly aligned in the frame. The resonating sound suggests it may have been shot on a camcorder inside a movie theatre. Colours are muted to the point where theyíre almost indistinguishable, and the tape used is a very inferior type with excessive dropout and noise.  The cassette has a crude, hand-written label and the case inlay is a pathetic photocopy of a press ad.

 

Watchability               0

Collectability              0

 

WOLF

£6.00, Sunday car boot, West Wickham, Kent.

 

Jack would not be happy! The origins of this tape are unclear but burnt into the picture are the words ĎProp of Col/TSPí, presumably that means Columbia Tristar Pictures, who made the film. The copy quality is poor, itís probably a third generation recording, and itís been made on a lousy tape with excessive dropout. The picture is very soft with little detail, and colours are all over the place, especially in the darker scenes; the mood and menace of the film are lost, even if you manage to follow whatís going on. The sound is horrible, hissy and uneven. Another hand-written label, this time without any sort of inlay.

 

Watchability               1

Collectability              0

 

FRANKENSTIEN

£6.00 Sunday car boot, Wrotham, Kent

 

The master for this recording was almost certain derived from a bootleg studio tape, a black panel towards the bottom of the screen is concealing a code or ID number, so itís origins cannot be easily traced. The market stallholder had a table full of fairly convincing-looking copies, though on closer inspection the cassette inserts looked like poor quality colour photocopies. The tape we brought came from the back of his car and was in a plain white sleeve.  The movie is a real nightmare, though itís got nothing to do with the plot, pitcture quality is atrocious, fuzzy detail hardly any colour and our copy had serious tracking errors, it short it was unwatchable .

 

 

NATURAL BORN KILLERS

£6.00 Sunday car Boot, Wrotham, Kent

 

Thereís no need to be worried about being corrupted or depraved by watching the pirate version of this movie, you can barely make out whatís going on. The images are disturbing right enough, but the only feelings of violence you get after watching it are towards the rip-off merchant who sold it to you. At a guess this is a third or fourth generation dub from a laser disc, judging by the freeze-frame start and letterboxing. It came from the same stall as Frankenstien, so thereís been no attempt at packaging, or dressing it up. A sad waste of tape, and money.

 

 

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1994 0811

 

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