FILM piracy has become such a problem that the Metropolitan Police has created a specialist unit to fight it.
The Film Piracy Unit is believed to be the first of its kind in the world. It will try to make inroads into a trade that involves an estimated 77 million pirate DVDs being produced in Britain every year, making it the world?s second-biggest black-market film centre after the United States.
The loss of DVD sales, box-office takings and rentals now costs the audio-visual industry ?818 million. The criminal gain from DVD piracy is estimated at ?278 million.
The new unit, comprising one detective sergeant and four detective constables, will investigate individuals and organised crime networks.
Eddy Leviten, of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), the film industry?s anti-piracy body, said that illegal Chinese immigrants had exacerbated the problem. He said that they began selling on street corners in London and the South East and in the past year and a half had established networks that spread to Wales and Scotland.
Three Chinese men were arrested in London this year after police raids in Burnt Oak and Peckham uncovered a massive pirate DVD manufacturing and distribution facility. More than 100,000 DVDs were seized, along with 200 DVD-burners capable of manufacturing 20,000 DVDs a day and seven printers for producing labels and covers.
Raymond Leinster, director general of FACT, said: ?DVD piracy is now epidemic across the UK. They are sold everywhere ? through ice-cream vans, barbers? shops and under the counter in pubs and clubs. On some housing estates you can call a minicab and get cigarettes, a bottle of vodka and Terminator 3 delivered, all of it counterfeit.?
The average price of an illegal DVD is ?4-?5, compared with ?11-?20 for the real thing; but Mr Leviten gave warning that buyers did not know what they were getting. ?You have no recourse to go back and the quality is variable,? he said.