DEAUVILLE, France (AFP) – Films being presented at Deauville, Venice and other festivals are no longer so exclusive: many are already available in pirated versions online in a trend threatening the whole cinema industry, according to a French subsidiary of a major US distributor.
"Most of the movies shown in the festivals, Deauville and Venice at the moment, have already been pirated and are already on line," Camille Trumer, the head of UIP-France, told AFP.
He said the phenomenon was worsening despite the industry”s efforts to stem it, and it was being practised at different levels and with different techniques.
It goes from young Internet users swapping video files of films recorded using cameras hidden during cinema screenings, right up to professionals who illegally duplicate a movie thousands of times to make money.
"The piracy involving youngsters is a game for them. It takes place when a film comes out or during a pre-release screening with a camera or mobile telephone. The on-line copies aren”t very good quality. But even if it”s a game, it must be punished and banned," Trumer said.
"But there”s worse, and that”s the industrial piracy carried out in the studios by Hollywood professionals themselves or in our dubbing studios in France or Spain for example. And in those cases, the films are put on DVD for purely commercial purposes. And the more international the film, the more it is pirated."
Millions of such illegal DVDs are available in the world, and it is common to find good-quality copies of Hollywood movies in Asia even before they hit screens.
In the struggle against the criminals, few films manage to keep out of the hands of the pirates, and even then only at big cost.
Steven Spielberg”s "War of the Worlds" held on to its cinema exclusivity because of an expensive system under which its reels were broken up, coded and distributed separately, Trumer said.
Agents equipped with infra-red goggles also stood facing the audience during advance screenings.
And even then, the film was copied the day it came out in theatres.
"That cost us several hundreds of thousands of dollars for France alone," the movie executive explained.
With a big movie opening in maybe 800 cinemas in France, and maybe five or six times that in the United States, it is impossible to have every theatre covered.
For DVDs — sometimes used to distribute new films to reviewers and festival juries — another form of protection is used. Each disc has an invisible watermark built into it, making it possible to trace back which DVD was used as the master for illegal copies.
The Motion Picture Association of America, the main industry association leading the fight to protect Hollywood copyrights, estimates that piracy is costing studios and producers 3.5 billion dollars a year.
It is spearheading legal action against Internet file-swappers in the United States, and now in France, to crack down on the practice.
In France, UIP-France believes that piracy is largely responsible for a 12-15 percent drop in cinema attendance noted in the United States and its own market.
"We have to do everything we can against piracy. It”s really one of the biggest challenges of our industry," Trumer said.