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The Malaysian film industry traces its origin back in the 1930s. It began as early as 1933 with the first film being a tale of two ill-fated lovers. This film which was named Leila Majnum was directed by B.S. Rajhans and was produced in Singapore. It was after this initial cast that Run and Run Me Shaw, who were brothers, set up their own studio in the year 1937. They were able to produce five to six movies before the start of the World War. When the First World War ended in the year 1947, they resumed their production, and they enjoyed a positive response for their productions. The Shaw brother’s film studio, which was known as the Malay Film Productions (MPP), enjoyed tremendous success and it was responsible for the introduction of famous actors such as P. Ramlee and L. Krishnan. Other entrepreneurs also ventured into the film industry due to the success enjoyed by the Malay Film Productions. Several film production companies emerged between the year 1948 and 1965. Some of these companies included the Nusantara Films, Rimau Productions, Tan & Wong Film Company and the Cathy-Keris Film Company. Most of these companies closed down due to the ever rising production cost and a decreased number of audiences for their films. The decrease in the audience number was partly caused by pirated films that saw their way into the market before their official release. The Malay Film Productions and the Cathy- Keris, both located in Singapore, were the only companies that were able to survive these hard times.
During the initial stages of the film production in Malaysia, all the films produced were in black and white. Coloured films were not to be produced until the late 60s. However, most of the studios had their own recording facilities, laboratories and editing facilities. After the 80s, the Malaysian film industry drastically changed especially after the emergence of the National film Development cooperation of Malaysia in the year 1981. This body was mandated with the maintenance of the film industry standards and the provision of research services and advice to the film industry. After the emergence of this new generation types of films, the Malaysian film industry started being affected by piracy.
Piracy is the illegal reproduction or use of a copyrighted recording, television programme, book or a patented invention. Piracy has significantly affected the Malaysian film industry and has even resulted to the demise of some of the movie production companies. Piracy is an intellectual property crime and it is usually practised in many forms.
The most common piracy is the camcorder theft. In this movie piracy, the pirate records the movie in a theatre using a digital recording device. This usually occurs in a movie theatre where the pirate records the movie before its official release and reproduces it for sale and distribution. The other form of movie piracy is the streaming theft. In this movie piracy, internet users are able to view unauthorised copyrighted movies and other television content on demand without downloading it. These websites may even go the extent of soliciting members to pay subscription fees to view this illegal content. Screener theft is another movie piracy whereby illegal copies of films are produced from legitimately produced advance copies used for marketing and screening purposes. These legitimate copies are called screeners. They may at times be leaked to pirates although this is a less common piracy than the peer to peer piracy.
Peer to peer theft is another movie piracy which involves the misuse of the peer to peer technology. The peer to peer technology allows internet users to perform various activities, such as exchanging clone copies of files from one computer to another, searching for files in another user’s computer and making available to other users the files stored in their own computers. Although this technology is particularly useful in legal matters, it is constantly misused by people who use it to distribute illegal contents. Since it opens up ones computer to access by other internet users, it allows millions of this technology’s users to share illegally downloaded movies.
The other common movie piracy is called “bootlegging”. This is an optical disk theft that involves the illegal manufacture, sale or distribution of movies in disc format or hard copy. The bootleggers have burner labs where the movies are recorded onto recordable discs by computers or burner towers. These burning laboratories are mostly located in residential locations such as apartments, garages and homes.
In Malaysia piracy has been an enormous challenge to the film industry, and it has negatively affected it. Piracy involves the distribution of optical discs which are factory produced. Burning the illegal content on the recordable discs is rampant. This was first witnessed by the open mushrooming of pirate outlets throughout the country. The pirate outlets are especially evident in the suburban areas where enforcement of the laws is not strict. An outgrowth of the night market piracy stalls also continues to flourish in Malaysia. This causes a highly significant decrease in the legitimate market for the film industry. It particularly serves as a big blow to the upcoming film producers. Upcoming film producers experience difficulties in marketing their products. This is because the market is destroyed by the pirates with cheap and low quality products. Their ability to compete fairly with the already established companies is hindered by the massive losses they incur through piracy. It is estimated that in year 2008 the film and music industry lost currency to the tune of 25.7 million US dollars. This significantly decapitated the abilities of the film companies and stalled their progression.
The number of licensed and unlicensed optical disc plants remains too high and needs to be regulated. These plants have a direct impact on the number of blank disk production. By the end of the year 2008 there were more than thirty optical disc production companies which had the ability to produce millions of blank discs and DVD-Rs per year. There was also a complete failure by the government to monitor the manufacturing plants of the blank CD-Rs. The government was also not able to ensure that such manufacturing plants apply the necessary identification codes on the CD-Rs. The availability of the blank discs in plenty means that their price is affordable to many at cheap prices. This increases the level of piracy in Malaysia. These discs also lack source identification and their origins cannot be traced back to their manufacturers. This makes the prosecution of such companies hard and they end up escaping the law. The other rampant movie piracy in Malaysia is the camcorder piracy. The films are recorded illegally during their exhibition in the movie theatres. This usually occurs early in the timeline of the theatrical release of the movie especially at the promotional screening. The recorded copies are then usually distributed through the internet by dealers. During the year 2008, about eight movies were illegally recorded in the Malaysian cinemas and spread through the internet. This caused massive losses to the companies involved since the hype and demand associated with the release of a new movie was already killed and the market destroyed. This piracy can be easily regulated by the government via the enactment of stringent rules to govern such cases. The government can enact stand-alone rules that serve to criminalize the illegal use of, or even the intent to use, visual and audio recording facilities in a movie theatre to record a movie on the screen. Such laws would enable the Malaysian enforcement officers to arrest and also prosecute people who record movies in the theatres. This would be without the need to establish the subsistence of copyright, copyright infringement or copyright ownership.
There are also reported cases of the exchange of pirated films and to a significant extent entertainment software at the Malaysian borders. This shows that the demand for pirated films of Malaysian origin is high. The Malaysian government addressed this problem by deploying law enforcement officers at the main international airports and borders to halt these exports. This produced a positive response that has reduced these types of exchange of the pirated movies. It is evident that actions by the government can significantly help to reduce the levels of piracy in a country.
The mobile phone device piracy has been on the rise in Malaysia. This piracy involves the downloading of movie files via the mobile phone. These files are usually loaded onto mobile devices at designated loading positions. This has been further accelerated by the penetration of mobile phones in Malaysia that has increased rapidly. The effort to curb this piracy has been warmly received by many unlawful downloading and uploading fixed locations that have legalized their work. However, some of these unlawful downloading and uploading fixed locations are yet to legalise their practices.
Internet piracy has also negatively affected the film and cinema industry. The common types of internet piracy have been the peer to peer file sharing. Other direct downloads from internet sources have also been experienced with most of these sites having legitimate advertising sites for sales of hard goods or delivery. The Malaysian government has since adopted legislation that aims at combating this internet piracy. This is done by promoting the responsibility of the internet service provider. It may also include a statutory notice, takedown or any method to solve all forms of internet piracy, including peer to peer file sharing, expeditiously. This promises to combat effectively the level of internet piracy and thus make the market for new films friendlier.
The increased levels of piracy impacted negatively on the local film producers. They were unable to compete with neighbouring countries leading to a fall in the film industry. It was also difficult for local actors to attract foreign investors when their market was full of piracy. This then impacted heavily on local talents that would have made their way into the film industry via their own local productions. Piracy killed creativity and some talented individuals even choose to relocate to foreign countries where they could realise their goals.
It is evident that piracy which negatively impacts the film industry can be curbed by the implementation of the right film policies by the government. The prosecution of the law breakers should be taken seriously to ensure that those involved get the right punishment. Government ministries mandated with the licensing of discs production should do so with strictness so as to control piracy activities in the fixed premises, homes, shopping centres and night markets. Legislation that ensures that all discs have source identification codes would also help to regulate the levels of piracy in the film industry. This would help in the identifying and easily tracing their sources. The use of, or the intent to use, visual and audio recording devices to record movies in the theatres should also be totally banned. With the enactment of these measures, new actors will find it easy to venture into the film industry. The already existing film production companies will also experience favourable working conditions and reap considerable profits.