Sandy George brings you a report on Australian piracy campaigns.

In 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available, an estimated 47 million illegal DVDs were in circulation in Australia, only five million fewer than those sold legitimately. The loss in revenues to the local industry was estimated to be $180m (A$230m).

More than 90% of illegal product is originally recorded in theatres but is distributed online

Neil Gane, director of operations at the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (Afact), believes the situation has worsened since 2005 due to greater broadband penetration - more than 90% of illegal product is originally recorded in theatres but is distributed online - and growing links to organised crime.

“We are under no illusions that copyright crime is going to disappear,” he says. “It can be very profitable so is hard to eradicate.” But Gane also says the market for counterfeits has declined, partly due to growing community awareness. One of Afact’s key messages is that piracy is not a victimless crime, with local businesses suffering, as well as those in Hollywood.

Afact views enforcement and deterrent sentencing, alongside education, as important planks in the fight against piracy. Copyright theft carries maximum penalties of $47,400 (A$60,500) and/or a five-year prison sentence per offence but, despite constant lobbying, softer penalties are common and consistency is rare.

The first prison sentence was given in 2004, however, and just two people have been jailed this year to date, for six and nine months respectively.

Afact has been involved in 14 police raids since January 1, resulting in the seizure of some 43,000 pirated DVDs and 205 burners. Several big hauls accounted for the 544,697 pirated DVDs seized in 2008. Nine people have been convicted in the past six-month period. Last year there were 15 convictions.

“Our strategic focus is on the source, taking out manufacturers is most critical,” says Gane.

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