Brazil on Piracy: Just Say No

Paulo Rebêlo
Wired News
March 2002

Frustrated by a government that either can’t or won’t address epidemic levels of commercial piracy, a broad coalition of Brazilian industry created an advertising campaign it hopes will appeal to Brazilians’ sense of fair play and economic self-interest.

The industries of software, music, clothes, toys, cable TV and movies have mounted a $1.5 million national campaign that will include ads in television, newspapers and online outlets. The message is that piracy that hurts Brazilian companies, in turn, hurts Brazilians in their own pocketbooks, both in higher prices and loss of jobs.

According to reports from the Interactive Digital Software Association, Brazil lost $303 million to pirates in 2001. The IDSA also claims that 99 percent of entertainment software in Brazil consists of illegal copies; for corporate software, it’s 58 percent.

While piracy is rampant everywhere, it is particularly acute in a country such as Brazil — which has a thriving consumer base, but an economic system in which workers make significantly less than their American counterparts.

That economic picture is what makes the temptation to purchase pirated products so strong. And it’s why this advertising campaign may be doomed to failure, and why critics of this campaign say the only way to stop piracy is to lower prices significantly.

“If you could pay, let’s say, about $70 for an OfficeXP instead of the $600 (retail outlets) charge, would you still want an illegal copy, with no support, no documentation, no guarantee and being warned (you could) get arrested?” said Julio Cesar de Oliveira, a network administrator and support analyst. “People would buy it like water, it’s just a matter of financial conditions.”

“We admit it’s more like a cultural problem,” said André de Almeida, an attorney for the Business Software Alliance, “and that’s why we’re intending to warn people about the level of injury piracy does with the country’s economy as a whole, such injuries as cutting jobs and reducing investments.”

Or to put it another way, the companies have no plans to lower prices anytime soon.

“Pointing (out) the prices as the reason for our rates of piracy is a simplistic answer to a complex question,” de Almeida said.

Industry leaders say government hasn’t done enough to protect retailers.

The Brazilian government did create the Interministerial Committee for Piracy Fight, which is charged with taking action when copyrights are violated in the country. And the Protective Association of Phonographic Intellectual Rights says that the police confiscated 3 million illegal music CDs in 2001.

But all one has to do is walk the streets of any major city in Brazil to see how pervasive the piracy market is. In some areas, there are kiosks and tents selling any kind of material, from the latest blockbusters in VCD format to rare collections of bootleg music albums going for $3 or less, with self-made covers.

“This kind of thing only happens because the authorities don’t take responsibility, and the impunity remains as the big deal in Brazil,” said Márcio Gonçalves, head director of the Brazilian Association of Disc Producers. “While very (little) is done from the justice legislation aspect, a small number of people make a fortune selling illegal stuff, and consequently … the industry cuts thousands of jobs and (loses) millions of dollars.”

Carlos Camargo, the Motion Picture Association representative in Brazil and director of the Brazilian Union of Video, also cited the lack of governmental determination for fighting piracy.

“We (the Brazilian Union of Video) have to investigate and trace denunciations by ourselves,” Camargo said. “We even need to train and qualify police officers and investigators for dealing with technology. Otherwise, we won’t have results.

“When people buy illegal stuff, they’re feeding a clandestine system that many times involves kidnapping and cargo stealing. But a regular Brazilian doesn’t seem to fear such violations,” added Camargo, who also believes that fighting piracy has much to do with the rescue of ethical values that have been lost.