In Malaysia – About to make it a crime to buy pirated DVD movies?

The Malaysian consumer public has been shocked by the announcement by the Domestic Trade and Consumerism Ministry that they intend to penalize those who buy counterfeit DVDs and VCDs. The Domestic Trade and Consumerism Ministry has indicated that in order to combat the rampant sale of pirated DVDs and VCDs, they need to staunch the demand and that can be done by punishing those that buy the products.

The Domestic Trade and Consumerism Ministry (known as Kementerian Perdagangan Dalam Negeri Dan Hal Ehwal Pengguna in Malay) exists to encourage ethical trade practices and to protect consumer interest. The ministry’s functions include managing matters related to consumer protection and intellectual property rights.

Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said recently that buyers of counterfeit DVDs and VCDs could be fined up to five times the retail price of the genuine products for each counterfeit item they had in their possession. The change in approach would come into effect once the proposed amendments of the Copyright Act were approved by Parliament.

Detractors of the plan suggested that resorting to penalising the consumer might be a sign of desperation by the ministry, which had failed to counteract the pirating syndicates in the past. Malaysia has had a history of criminal syndicates engaging in large scale counterfeiting of movies and music discs as well as computer software. Much of this product was sold across the region and even exported to USA and Europe.

However, many consumers felt that this approach was unfair and punishing consumers was the wrong path to take. Some said that the price of genuine DVDs and VCDs was too high and they resorted to buying counterfeit copies instead. They urged the music and movie industries and government to work to reduce the retail prices to lessen the demand for fakes. Also, they reasoned, if the Ministry was able to catch a consumer who had bought some DVDs, then why couldn’t they catch the vendor at the same time?

But some agreed with the idea – after all, they thought, buyers of illegal drugs are punished so why not for DVDs as well?

As Intellectual Property rights become more important as an asset to a company, the Intellectual Property holders will demand via their associations and governments for more protection to stop counterfeiting.

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