Police charge shop owner over allegedly pirated DVDs

 

Nicholas Read

Vancouver Sun
July 15, 2004

 

RICHMOND - Six months after they seized more than 10,000 counterfeit CDs and DVDs from a Richmond music shop, Richmond RCMP have laid charges against the shop's owner.

At a news conference Wednesday at Richmond RCMP headquarters, Cpl. Steve Goss said Simon Lam-Tai Lam, owner of Samson Asia Music in the Lansdowne Mall, was charged with 63 counts of violating the federal Copyright Act.

Goss said if he is convicted, Lam could face a maximum penalty of $25,000 per counterfeit title in fines and two years in jail.

But Lam's lawyer said the DVDs, which were seized last Dec. 17 in what is so far the largest seizure of counterfeit CDs and DVDs in B.C., are not bogus.

"We don't agree that they're bogus," Glen Orris said in a phone interview Wednesday. "We're saying they're not in infringement of any copyright."

Richmond RCMP say the DVDs, which include Asian movies and music videos and such North American titles as Finding Nemo, Sleeping Beauty, Twister, Shanghai Knights and Apocalypse Now, were manufactured and distributed without licence. Goss said it's easy to tell a bogus DVD from the real article because the packaging is inferior, they don't have a correct manufacturer's seal, and often the spelling on the packaging is incorrect.

For example, on one DVD on display at police headquarters, the word "surround" was spelled "surrpund."

Goss also said the practice is "common in Richmond," and that because police only began cracking down on it two years ago, operators were "flourishing" until then.

"Now they're more on the run than they used to be," he said.

According to the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association, B.C. is a hotbed of activity when it comes to selling and distributing bogus DVDs, and Richmond is one of the main sales and distribution centres. Between January 2002 and June of this year, 20 of the 45 DVD seizures that took place across the country were in B.C.

But Orris said police are acting on incorrect information, and that the DVDs sold by Lam don't violate any copyright laws.

"The police are getting this information from other people -- primarily people in Toronto and eastern Canada -- who take the position they have copyright on some of this material. And they may not have.

"The people we obtained these [DVDs] from may have obtained copyright for them, or have authorized reproductions."

Lam is due to appear in Richmond provincial court Aug. 6, but his store remains open because police don't have the authority to order its closure, Goss said.

According to search warrants, the seizure was ordered following a complaint from Michael Leung, vice-president of the Long Shong Entertainment Group in Richmond, that Samson was selling bootlegged CDs and DVDs.

The warrant says Leung's company owns most of the Canadian copyrights for Asian-language pictures in Canada, and the CDs and DVDs sold by Lam were in violation of those copyrights.

Jim Sweeny, an investigator with the Motion Picture Distributors Association, says while counterfeit DVDs are available everywhere in Canada, they are particularly problematic in B.C. Most bogus discs are manufactured in Asia, and B.C. is often their port of entry into both Canada and the U.S.

"Some Asian countries have been identified for counterfeiting North American movies," Sweeny said. "China, Hong Kong and the Philippines in particular. The reasons are somewhat historical. Initially the first DVD pressing plants were in Asian countries, so they have a longer history of having the technology there. So you have legitimate plants that turn out bootleg copies after hours."

And it's not just older movies that are produced, Sweeny said. It's no longer unusual, he said, to see movies still playing in North American cinemas available on bootleg CDs. Shrek II and Spiderman 2 are already being sold on counterfeit DVDs at prices well below what an authorized copy would cost.

Goss said police believe most people who buy counterfeit CDs and DVDs know what they're doing, given the unusually low price they pay -- $5 or $10 versus $25 or $30 -- and the quality of the merchandise they're buying.

"I do believe for the most part, people know what they're purchasing," he said.

Both Goss and Sweeny also said more and more counterfeit titles are produced in Canada, thanks to the increasing affordability of DVD and CD burners.

Sweeny couldn't say how much the practice costs the motion picture industry in Canada, but worldwide it is estimated to run between $3.5 billion and $4 billion US a year.

They also say the practice is no more prevalent among Asians than other cultural groups. But Sweeny added: "It's well known that if you go to certain parts of Asia, if you go to certain open-air markets, everything under the sun is pirated. Not just movies, but anything you want."

"I think because of the prevalence of piracy in certain Asian countries, mainly due to the lack or enforcement or legislation to discourage this activity, that this product is out there and perhaps those in the Asian community are aware of it because they are from the countries that the CDs come from."

Recently, Richmond has seen a succession of police raids of businesses allegedly selling counterfeit DVDs.

Last August, 25-year-old Chi Chung Chan was fined $5,000 in Richmond provincial court after pleading guilty to selling hundreds of pirated videogames at the Richmond Night Market in 2002. He also was ordered to serve 18 months probation for his crime.

Chan was one of several people arrested in September 2002 when police with Richmond's economic crime section raided the Night Market at Lansdowne Mall.

Last July, Richmond RCMP executed a search warrant on the Chinese Disc Company for allegedly selling counterfeit movies and illegal pornography.

This followed a raid in March of the same company where police found pirated movie titles and disc-burner equipment.

In February 2003, police seized about 200 suspected pirated DVD movies from Global Pass Communications on McKim Way.