Jul. 8, 2003

U.S. says cut-price disc plan won't work

KUALA LUMPUR, July 7 Malaysia's plan to forcibly cut prices of film and music discs to curb piracy won't work, and tougher penalties for crooks are the only solution, a senior U.S. trade official said on Monday.
William Lash, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for market access and compliance, said Malaysia had done more than many Asian nations to fight piracy but should not impose price controls to rout fraudsters.
''Price controls would have a very damaging effect on the same artists they are trying to protect,'' Lash told a news conference after flying into Kuala Lumpur to lobby against Malaysia's plans for the music and movie retail business.
Copyright owners, including international recording houses, were surprised recently when Malaysia said it wanted to cut disc prices as a way to fight piracy.
Representatives of recording houses in Kuala Lumpur have said such a move could spark a trend among other countries.
''This is an easy way for Malaysia to clear itself but imagine what will happen to us if every country demands that we halve our prices,'' said the manager of an international recording label.
An original music disc or movie DVD in Kuala Lumpur costs between 40 and 80 ringgit ($11-$21) compared with illegal clones available on the streets from around five to 20 ringgit.
Lash, who will meet Malaysian government officials on his trip, said U.S. trade losses due to piracy in Malaysia fell to $242 million last year from $316 million in 2001, and commended the country for seizing thousands of illegal discs since May.
Up-to-the-minute copies of the latest box-office busters are now harder to find at stalls and shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur, though 10-ringgit pirated DVDs of ''Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle,'' featuring stars Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu, were on sale over the weekend.
Lash urged the Malaysian government to sentence wrong-doers to long jail terms instead of letting them off with fines of a maximum one million ringgit ($260,000).
''In America you go to prison for this. One woman got nine years of prison for her first offence of software piracy. It's important that organised crime be dealt with as organised crime.'' (US$1-3.8 ringgit)