With illegal copying and downloading of feature films becoming ever more prevalent (ScreenDaily.com, 27 November 2003), the German film and video industries have joined forces to launch a campaign entitled "Raubkopierer sind Verbrecher - eine Initiative zum Schutz des Originals" ("Pirates are criminals - an initiative to protect the original").

"We can't be as lax and pedagogical as the music industry", said the campaign's organiser Dr. Elke Esser of Zukunft Kino Marketing (ZKM) which had calculated that the film and video industries lost Euros 800m worth of business last year through illegal copies of films. "If we don't do something now. we will soon be faced with insoluble problems."

Therefore, "a provocative, aggressive" campaign is being launched this week "to establish a dialogue with the people who download or buy bootlegged films at flea markets", Esser explained. "In order to make the illegal nature of the pirated copies clear, the campaign will create an awareness of the legal consequences for criminally organised pirates."

The two-year campaign will begin with "drastic, but humorous" commercials and posters in cinemas and video stores and be followed by other publicity measures to address the end consumers' lack of awareness of wrongdoing. "People see copying films as something like ticket dodging or parking in a no-parking zone", Esser added.

As Good Bye, Lenin! producer Stefan Arndt of X-Filme creative pool told Screendaily.com, the unchecked spread of illegal copying could wreak untold damage on the production sector. According to the German Federal Film Board's recent piracy study, some 770,000 illegal copies of Wolfgang Becker's film had been made between the film's premiere at the Berlinale in February and the DVD release in September. "We would earn Euros 2,50 from each official copy, but that money is missing from these pirated ones", Arndt said. "We could have produced three films on the scale of Run Lola Run or Good Bye, Lenin! for the money lost. So we have to make it clear to people that if they keep on making pirated copies, then there won't be any more of these films, we won't be able to make them in the future."

Indeed, the seriousness of the situation was demonstrated by Michael Panknin of the video trade association IVM who held up German language DVDs of Finding Nemo and The Italian Job at the campaign press conference and said that they could be bought for between Euros 5-10 - even though their German home video releases were not planned until 8 April and 12 May, respectively.

As the arthouse exhibitors information service Programmkino.de reported, the German version of Finding Nemo could also be illegally downloaded from the Internet some two weeks before the film's release on 20 November. In a statement on the pirated versions, BVI's general manager Wolfgang Braun said that his company had been "the first distributor in Germany to draw up security measures and rules for every possible access to prints and source material and already some time back obliged all cinemas as well as dubbing studios, transporters warehouses etc. to keep [to the rules]." He explained that BVI had been able to trace the specific prints used for the illegal copying of the German language soundtrack by encoding the films.