The Pirated Film Trade Hits the Egyptian Economy

Piracy of electronic content is a crime punishable by Egyptian law. Nevertheless, the trade of pirated films and theft of visual arts productions from cinemas remains a trend, where anyone can secretly record a new movie as soon as it’s released to theatres using a professional HD camera to sell for thousands of pounds.

According to Moataz O Saleh the Founder and CEO of Shield Consultancy, the owners of forums and sites that view pirated content, in his study, offer up to 90 thousand pounds for these stolen materials. Yet, this is considered a hidden trade that no one knows anything about, and behind it many lying in wait, from inside and outside of Egypt, to harm the Egyptian economy and film producers.

Saleh explains how this trade harms an economy that generates millions annually for thousands of workers in the industry, explaining that electronic piracy is a crime of a financial nature that takes the form of illegal behavior related in any way to electronic devices, which results in benefits flowing to the criminal while the victim bears the losses. The goal of these crimes is always the theft and piracy of the information contained in these devices, or are often carried out with the aim of extorting people using the personal information stored on their stolen devices.

Regarding the ways in which films are pirated, Saleh revealed that the traditional way is for a person to go into a cinema, sit and videotape the entire film with a high-resolution camera, while the advanced method of modern attacks is for the pirate to access the movie files inside the cinema and convert them into viewing copies. This enables them to upload their content on the Internet. Another way is to burn the movie files onto CDs through the use of some programs that convert different formats of unencrypted files.

Saleh stresses that the main and fundamental goal of film piracy in the Arab world is to “hurt the film industry and its economy,” by recruiting people and websites that facilitate the piracy and circulation of films, adding, “There are sites that blackmail production companies to pay them in exchange for removing the film from their forums. There are also those who launch over a hundred fake websites that are being fully monitored, with the intention of deluding some producers into thinking that the film has been leaked on a large scale, giving them the illusion that the situation is uncontainable, and then using this to blackmail them by persuading them that the films can be deleted, when in reality these sites have no views and do not even appear in search engines. These “pirates” can be hackers, amateurs, or others simply looking to make some money by publishing pirated materials and making them available to all Internet users to earn huge sums through advertisements on their websites and blackmailing producers.”

He goes on to say, “For example, a large number of films this year have been pirated from inside cinemas using modern technologies that have never been seen before. International box office sales are also affected as they [modern technologies] have allowed for the making of high quality pirated movies as has been witnessed in previous years with the leaking and piracy of some of the most famous films in American cinema as soon as they started showing in theaters.”

Saleh also pointed out the arrival of modern technology capable of finding out the time and place the illegal duplication of copyrighted material took place. Because every film displayed on the cinema screen contains hidden symbols and codes from which information can be easily extracted by analyzing the pirated video, we can now determine the location of the theater where the film was pirated as well as the time it was played, anywhere, inside or outside Egypt, adding, “These technologies have made it easier to track people through modern technologies that identify any content filmed from inside cinemas.”

Saleh added that the other method not used in the Arab world, which makes the job easier for pirates, is when filmmakers distribute their different copies in cinemas without encoding them -which based on statistics, more than 75% of the films are not encoded in the different stages of production- facilitating the piracy of films with very high quality from inside post-production studios.

He explained that after the piracy of the film, filmmakers and producers resort to anti-piracy services firms to combat the piracy of electronic content because of their experience in the field, and also to anti-piracy specialists to do their part in blocking search links from Google, deleting content from YouTube and Facebook, and from various upload sites inside and outside of Arab countries, which contributes to reducing the size of the losses that they previously suffered as a result of the leakage of materials.

He stressed that filmmakers must first monitor cinemas and not allow anyone to use their phones while films are showing and that they must encode all films before they are delivered to theaters inside and outside of Egypt, and also learn during the post-production process to facilitate monitoring and spotting of unauthorized leaked copies. In addition, filmmakers and producers need to secure and ensure their own facility by employing cybersecurity technologies, and also obtaining quality security certificates. The advisory role that an electronics insurance company plays is to provide guidance and oversee the implementation of the necessary security for the facility.

Saleh also adds, “It is certain that the state plays a great role in preserving intellectual property rights and punishing violators of intellectual property rights as guaranteed by the constitution and the law, but the current law is faulted for the length of the routine procedures to be followed to report violations, transferring them to the prosecution, monitoring and tracking the hackers, and then conducting investigations. These procedures take nearly a month, which results in huge losses for filmmakers and producers due to the circulation of films and their spread all over the Internet. On the part of the state, some provisions of the law must be amended to increase the severity of punishment for piracy, the speed of catching the culprit, and also the speed of blocking websites that engage in piracy.”