COOK ISLANDS BID TO FLUSH OUT VIDEO PIRATES

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By Cameron Scott

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (May 17 2002 – Cook Islands News)---The man reputed to run one of the largest video piracy operations on Rarotonga says he’s prepared to give up profiting from illegal videos if the government introduces a new Copyright Act.

The prime minister’s chief executive, Piho Rua, who owns the Video 2000 rental stores as well as an Avarua retail store which sells copied CDs and other pirated material, says he’s fed up with shouldering most of the blame in the media for video piracy and now intends to encourage the government to enforce the new legislation

The proposed Act has languished for some time, with previous governments seemingly unwilling to risk their popularity by introducing legislation that would affect many video store operations — as well as Cook Islands Television and TV services in the outer islands.

But Rua, who freely admits he’s still involved in video piracy, says he’s being "crucified" for it, while other people who profit from illegal videos get away with it.

He points the finger at CITV boss George Pitt, whom he claims as a major video pirate and says that a large proportion of the programs shown on CITV are illegal.

The station also makes big profits by illegally copying popular wrestling and music programs and selling them, Rua alleges.

In the case of movies, he alleges CITV and stations in the outer islands sometimes use illegal tapes hired from video stores because they can’t afford to pay copyright fees.

"If they pay for a movie to put on TV, it will cost them NZ$ 400 - NZ$ 500" (about US$ 190 – US$ 237), he says. "They’d be very lucky to get sponsorship for that much – and if they do get it, it just means they’re able to pay for the cost of using the movie. There’s no profit left over and they can only show the movie once."

Rua says he’s determined to expose the people he claims are hiding behind the present Act, which doesn’t cover the illegal copying of electronic material like videos, CDs and DVDs.

And he claims he has made his new position clear to Pitt.

"I questioned him as to whether he will support the new Copyright Act and he wouldn’t say yes or no. He would only say that a lot of people would be affected by it."

Rua says he’s tired of people accusing him of using his political affiliations to protect his video business.

"It also makes me angry that in the past I’ve been branded as the only video pirate on the island."

Rua claims he was largely responsible for persuading a Parliamentary Select Committee not to introduce the more powerful and up-to-date copyright legislation. But he says he did it to protect the country’s television services.

"I was the only one who made it clear to the committee that bringing in the new law would affect TV stations in the outer islands and CITV. They were all using pirated programs.

"As a result of my presentation, things got put in limbo. I was doing it for everyone and people should understand that. It was not just for myself. I understand that one of the reasons the previous operators of CITV failed was because they couldn’t afford to pay for programs."

However, the former police detective says that until the new legislation is revived and enforced, he’ll keep copying new movies.

"Nothing can stop me from doing that. But now I’m going to encourage government to enforce the new law. When it comes in I will lose a lot of business by not being able to hire out new movies, but it has got to the stage where I am simply going to have to bear that.

"I am not going to take all the blame. I am going to flush these people out."

An item in the "gossip column" of Pitt’s newspaper this week says Rua’s video rental business appears to be lagging behind in the movie stakes. It implies the reason for this is that Rua has become sidetracked investigating the source of Cabinet paper leaks to the weekly newspaper and says that advertisements on CITV for "the latest pirated videos" have not changed in several weeks, indicating that Rua hasn’t had time to get his stock up to date.

Yesterday George Pitt denied that CITV showed illegally copied material on television and claimed he would welcome the introduction of stronger copyright laws.

"It will sort out the sheep from the goats," he said. "Bring it on!"

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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