Tue, May 06, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Thais skeptical of anti-piracy drive


A Thai policeman inspects a DVD movie at a shop in Bangkok last Thursday as the Thai government launched a crackdown on pirated goods. The US warned in January that Thailand needed to do more to tackle piracy.


Flushed with the self-proclaimed success of its drugs war, Thailand's government has launched a crackdown on pirated goods, but vendors in this northern city are pushing on with sales regardless.

At Chiang Mai's famed night bazaar, where a jumble of colorful street stalls rub shoulders with arts, antiques and souvenir shops, vendors of pirated CDs, VCDs and DVDs say they cannot afford to stop peddling their illegal wares.

"I am scared of being arrested, but I cannot close down this small CD shop if my family is going to survive," said a vendor calling himself Paiboon.

Business is already dismal, locals say, due to the drop off in tourism following the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

"My shop is still open because I don't know when the campaign is actually going to begin and I can't close down and wait for it to start [and end]," said another named Domn.

"If the officials try to arrest me I'll just try to escape," he said.

At the market and in surrounding retail shops, music CDs sell for 100 baht (US$2.30), compared to around 450 baht for their authentic counterparts.

DVDs sell for around 180 baht, substantially lower than their 800 to 2,000 baht price tag in legitimate outlets.

The US warned in January that Thailand -- a major global exporter of pirated CDs -- needed to do more to tackle piracy.

It loses an estimated US$250 million annually due to piracy in the kingdom, where US movie releases can be snapped up before they hit screens at home.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said at the weekend that the crackdown must succeed, or Thai traders would suffer retaliatory trade barriers.

"If we ignore piracy, foreign countries will impose non-tariff barriers against our farmers and they will not be able to sell their produce," he said.

"My government is not doing this for foreigners, but also for Thais," he said.

The crackdown officially kicked off last Thursday, coming on the heels of a three-month drugs war aimed at curbing the country's use of methamphetamines, which wrapped up on April 30.

More than 2,200 people were likely killed in the brutal campaign, which Thaksin has labelled a success. Police admitted to shooting 51, with the remainder, authorities say, killed in shootouts among drug dealers.

Thaksin, vendors may be relieved to hear, said such bloodshed will not occur in his latest battle.

"The crackdown on violations of intellectual property will not be as harsh as the war on drugs, because drug traffickers are considered the worst of all [people]," he said.

Meanwhile in Chiang Mai, savvy vendors -- who have survived half-hearted clampdowns in the past -- are prepared for police swoops, with plans in place to warn each other along a verbal telegraph if anyone spots a potential raid in the making, they say.

"The first priority of the vendors is to escape arrest. It doesn't matter if their goods get captured -- most only display empty CD boxes with cover sheets," one shopkeeper said.

Once buyers select their purchases, vendors dash off to where the real goods are stashed.

Such systems are in place at markets all over Thailand, from tourist haunts like Bangkok's Patpong night market to shops frequented mainly by locals, such as the capital's Panthip Plaza, a haven for pirated software.

Pirated goods in Chiang Mai are mostly sourced from Bangkok, the vendors say, because professional equipment is unavailable in Chiang Mai.

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