Screen International's DVD: The Home Cinema Summit last week revealed the growing threat of piracy to the film industry's bottom line.
According to Thomas Dillon, the Motion Picture Association's (MPA) legal counsel for anti-piracy, Europe, Middle East & Africa, seizures of pirate DVDs rose from 7.5m in 2002 to 16.5m in 2003 - a growth rate outstripping the legal DVD market. And the growth trajectory of piracy shows no signs of abating.
Already, in the first six months of 2004, the UK's Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) has seen local illegal DVD seizures rise by 204% against the same period last year.
The recent expansion of the EU has done little to alleviate the various problems of policing the situation, making it harder to control illegal DVD importation across international borders with weak copyright laws.
But its not just the new member states that pose a problem. According to Dillon, while the MPA was working with French customs recently, a shipment of 30,000 pirate DVDs was intercepted; yet the local customs officials stated that they had not realised that they were illegal goods. In fact, they said that there had been over 30 such shipments from Pakistan so far this year.
Clearly, in addition to more robust legislation, a concerted campaign of education and PR is required to raise the profile of this increasing problem. This week, the Industry Trust for IP Awareness launches a UK campaign to inform and educate opinion formers, legislators and the general public about the darker side of DVD piracy, which is often considered a 'soft crime'.
At the same time, copy protection companies like Marcovision are developing technical solutions on several fronts to combat the proliferation of P2P file sharing and internet downloads. One such development involves 'spoofing' - creating thousands of empty files on the internet that respond to requests for film titles, but which provide empty content.
Meanwhile, latest MPAA research claims that nearly one in four (24%) of internet users have illegally downloaded a film. In a fact sheet on international internet piracy the MPAA singled out the UK: "an increasing number of searches... are revealing computers with massive hard drive storage capacity with films stored on them".
Other findings showed that 17% of non-downloaders were likely to start downloading in the future and that many current downloaders had reduced their trips to the cinema and were buying less [legal] DVDs.
While education and PR seem to be the key strategy in dissuading consumers from buying or downloading copyrighted material, the message is not always a clear one. Recently, two high-profile directors, Quentin Tarantino and Michael Moore publicly supported illegal (albeit not-for-profit) downloading.
Perhaps the fight against film piracy is one that can never be won, but will remain a problem to be contained at an acceptable level.