PONTIUS PIRATES

Manila, June 1, 2003 by Argee Guevarra, (STAR) - Videophiles won’t admit it but pandering to VCD pirates has become a habit. Some have even been addicted. Pardon the zealous campaign of Bong Revilla, but piracy is like a bad case of amoebiasis: The more you flush it, the more it proliferates and regenerates. Video piracy has triumphed over frustrated advocates of intellectual property. E-Male has flitted from one flea market to the other, from Quiapo to Greenhills only to be greeted – more like pestered – by eager merchants, most of whom with crisp Marawi City accents, whispering these familiar lines: "Boss, moobi, moobi" or "X-rated, marami kaming bago."

A mere hint of interest would push one to a follow-a-complete-stranger, catch-me-if-you-can chase across narrow pathways that lead to an obscure corner stall which sells clothes on the outside but is actually a video pirate’s joint in the inside. It’s a strange, almost surreal sensation which one feels when drawn to the epicenter of pirated VCDs.

It certainly spikes the fear out of anything dangerous and illicit, like perhaps, negotiating with a pimp or dealing with a dope pusher. There’s the eerie sense of being an accessory or an accomplice to a felony – which video piracy is all about.

E-Male remembers the time when renting VHS tapes was pegged at an atrocious 35 bucks per pop, 10 bucks higher if they were adult films. Two hours of viewing movies was almost a fifth of the daily minimum wage and a film orgy would certainly cost one day’s wage.

Enter pre-Y2K technology that introduced everyone to a CD that could play movies. The reign of the VHS reel was cut short by a round, paper-thin disc that could play on an appliance that then cost a fourth of the price of a branded VHS or Betamax player. A check with a friendly importer suggested that, thanks to mass-production and globalization, a VCD player actually cost something like P300 in China’s black market.

Alas, for a little less than a P1,200 price tag in Raon or Virra Mall, the old but seemingly dependable Betamax and VHS players found themselves in every home’s closet museum stuffed sided by side with all the Jurassic symbols of the ’70s and the ’80s – the quadrasonic turntable and the black-and-white TV sets.

And just like most scrimping YUPLETS (or Young Urban Proletarians) who had to keep up with the Joneses, E-Male bought a VCD player the brand of which could be had from a sticker smorgasbord – Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, JBC or Sharp. After all, VCD players are just about the size of a VHS rewinder and one-third smaller than a Betamax player but projects superior digital image quality.

And unlike VHS/Betamax tapes that cost something like P300 just four years ago and looked like black clutch bags clipped in the pits by DOMs, a VCD could be bought then for a little less than P100 and could neatly slide between a ham and cheese sandwich. So, when fake VCDs inundated the market three years ago, the boom in sales necessarily blasted out the retail of VHS and Betamax tapes. Heck, it even wiped out the community video rental industry.

Illegal as it is, pirated VCDs served as a boon to movie-starved but peso-pinching Filipinos. Before, when the video pirates haven’t yet poached on our shores, original, VRB-stamped VCDs fetched at a prohibitive P500 to P795. But when the sidewalk and flea market entrepreneurs flooded us with pirated copies that cost as little as P25 in Quiapo and as high as P40 in Virra Mall, Original VCDs took a dive from the P795 mark to P150 and less.

And less means more reasons for Filipinos to snap up original copies rather than their pirated versions as local artistas remind us of the hassles of patronizing the pirated. After all, there are enough lemon stories to squeeze from buying pirated VCDs. Poor image quality, intermittent skipping of scenes and the hassles of potentially getting cuffed along with the pirates every so often that cops, VRB and NBI agents swoop down on stalls selling pirated VCDs.

Yet, pirated VCD stalls, ordered closed the day before by law enforcers, open as the sun rises and teem with every conceivable species of individuals. E-Male has seen movie stars, newspaper editors, lawyers, doctors, politicians and CEOs falling all over each other with the rest of humanity trying to score Now Showing, Next Attraction, Coming Soon and Under Production titles that Hollywood, Seiko, Viva and Regal can offer.

Perhaps, the Video Pirates are really here to stay for as long as the Pontius Pirates in all of us continue washing our hands off the stark and naked problem of continuing and unstoppable violations of intellectual property rights. Captain Hook must have hooked the Pinoy’s passion for pirated pulp fiction. * * *

E-mail E-Male at: argee@justice.com


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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