By Nilika de Silva
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has cracked down on a major piracy racket in which local films currently show are being illegally copied into VCDs and video cassettes and sold depriving the film producers of revenue and hampering the growth of the cinema industry.
The CID carried out a raid this week busting a den located at Ja-ela where a massive piracy racket was draining the already poverty stricken local film industry of its hard earned profits, the latest casualty being 'Parliament Jokes' which had been released on January 25.
The suspect behind the operation, a 28-year-old man is presently being interrogated on the fourth floor of the CID. More than a thousand pirated copies of local films are presently in the custody of the CID.
The racket was busted following information received by the producer of the Sinhala film 'Parliament Jokes', presently being shown at the Liberty Cinema in Colombo and many other film halls around the country, that copies of his film were being sold at about Rs. 1000 in the local market.
The man selling pirated copies of the film 'Parliament Jokes', has bought a van worth Rs. 1.7 million with his profits, complained the producer of the film Lal Kaluarachchi.
Mr. Kaluarachchi, the Chairman and Managing Director of Lak Films, told The Sunday Times he felt very discouraged that the film he produced spending Rs. 15 million and took him over an year to complete with a great deal of effort, had been pirated in a single night and made available in the market.
Mr. Kaluarachchi said that in his search for quality he had even sent the film to the Prasad Laboratory in India for processing and prior to releasing the film had even visited all the halls at which the film was to be shown to ensure that they were in a good condition so as to give value for the viewers' money. The film had grossed Rs. 20 million in thirty days setting a box office record beating the earlier record which was Rs. 20 million in 150 days.
Among the other films found in the possession of the suspect and which had been sold from Rs. 75 upwards are Rosa Wasanthaya, Aswesuma, Kinihiriya Mal, Mamath Gehaniyek, Parliament Jokes 1 and Jolly Hullo. Films yet to be released are among those copied.
At present investigations are being carried out to locate where the printing of the colourful cardboard covers for the VCDs are taking place.
Meanwhile, the suspect, is also alleged to have been producing degree certificates and other forged documents on request, with BSc, MSc and even MBBS certificates being issued liberally.
It is learnt that the suspect, a father of two, had spent about nine years in West Asia along with his wife, prior to coming and setting up business here.
The multi-million rupee piracy racket had come to light when the producer of 'Parliament Jokes' realising that something was amiss published a notice in the newspapers, stating that a Rs. 100,000 reward was on offer for information regarding copies made of his film. The notice carried in the Lankadeepa of March 2 drew an immediate response from the public.
Acting on tip-offs received by Mr. Kaluarachchi which had been communicated to the CID on March 4, a police team went to Galle the following day to investigate. Two video cassettes were recovered and information obtained that they originated from a house in Colombo. Subsequently the team raided the house located at Ja-ela in an operation carried out at about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning. The equipment taken into custody during the raid included five computers with CD writers and more than a thousand VCDs of copied films. The suspect and his team of two had been running these machines throughout the day making multiple copies of films.
CID sources said the other two suspects are evading arrest. The films had been distributed to over a hundred places and information has been received that two or three teams have been working from outside co-ordinating distribution with the suspect. Three vans it is alleged had been used to distribute the pirated films to the video parlours. The blank CDs are brought from Pakistan where they are available cheaply.
The VCDs are mainly in circulation in Colombo city, Galle and other main towns and suburbs while the video cassettes are going to the villages, where the latest technology is slow to reach.
The saddest part is that the public are still unaware that viewing pirated films is unethical, CID officials said adding that piracy comes under the Intellectual Property Act and the CID is empowered to take steps to curb this trend.
President of the Film Actors Guild, MP Ravindra Randeniya told The Sunday Times that new legislation will have to be brought in to arrest this growing trend of piracy.
"Piracy amounts to highway robbery and if stern action is not taken as a deterrent, it will affect the entire industry as producers will get discouraged," he said. Therefore we will have to examine the existing laws and see where there are inadequacies to combat electronic pirating, he said.
The problem of piracy is compounded as film halls are suspected to have provided the opportunity for the film to be duplicated.
"It is only with the connivance of theatre staff that this could have been done," Mr. Randeniya said explaining that copies of the films are in the possession of the cinema hall management.
The police investigations are being carried out by SP Nimal Kulatunge under the direction of Director CID, SSP Lionel Gunatillake.
By Shelani Perera
Despite the Elections Commissioner's decision to hold the Local Government elections in the North and East, Tamil parties are against the polls being held.
A Tamil National Alliance delegation last week met Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and informed him that the environment is not conducive for a poll.
TNA member Anandasangari told The Sunday Times that the elections should be postponed in order to save democracy.
'The people should be allowed to vote freely. It is impossible to hold the elections now. The argument that three months ago the parliamentary elections were held and so this too must be held is not acceptable. This election is very different and we don't need to hold it right now' he said.
The TNA had also told the Prime Minister that political parties have not started their campaign.
Last week the Elections Commissioner informed Government Agents that the polls in the North and East will be held as scheduled on March 25.
The Commissioner had directed the GAs in each District to formulate the modalities for the holding of the elections.
Attorney-at-law Ronald Perera has been appointed to the Board of Directors of the Bank of Ceylon by Finance Minister K.N. Choksy.
The other Directors appointed so far are Mr. Ken Balendra (Chairman), Mr. Sunil Mendis and Mr. Faiz Mohideen of the Treasury.