Fighting piracy

    The piracy problem in the Middle East is used as an excuse for all sorts of issues impacting the region's broadcast and media publishing sectors.
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    The piracy problem in the Middle East is used as an excuse for all sorts of issues impacting the region's broadcast and media publishing sectors.

    Pay TV subscription growth is held back by it, FTA channels can't attract audiences for first-run movies that are widely available s pirated DVDs and in some parts of the region, illegal platforms are the primary method of distribution for content, particularly music.

    In the case of pay TV, conditional access technology can make life difficult for pirates, who have to decrypt the signal on a regular basis to keep up with the latest coded protection.

    However, inconveniencing the pirates just isn't enough.

    The presence of an estimated 600 illegal cable operators in Lebanon offering pay TV services for as little as US$10 per month, is often showcased as an example of the scale of the piracy problem in the region.

    There is an eerie silence however when it comes time to discuss what is actually being done to combat these brazenly public operations.

    Recently, there have been more and more news reports appearing in the local press of raids on resellers of enterprise software with the Business Software Alliance (BSA) often the catalyst behind these actions.

    The intimate industry knowledge and communication between members has enabled offending retail outlets to be individually identified and punished, reducing the availability of pirated material and acting as a deterrent to others. Microsoft has also cooperated with many of these raids targeting its own resellers.

    These have taken place in many countries across the Middle East, including the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Jordan. The industry specific approach of the BSA, now a proven success in the Middle East, could be viewed as a pointer for the broadcast and media sectors in the region.

    The industry itself best understands the technology and knowledge required to circumvent encryption. The community of professionals working to protect signals is more likely to hear whispers of how signals are being intercepted. And they are also more likely to know the best way to intervene in this unique market.

    As for counterfeit DVDs, a broadcast and media led partnership would hold these as a more pressing target than international bodies who are (rightly) more concerned with intercepting potentially fatal counterfeit pharmaceutical products and customs authorities who likewise, have bigger fish to fry.

    Consumers will continue to purchase pirated content as long as it remains cheap and easily available. To date, legislation and enforcement has proved to be a fairly impotent weapon and despite the slowly improving situation, a unified effort from content owners following a strategy devised by the industry itself would surely prove more beneficial in the long-run.

    John Parnell is the deputy editor of Digital Broadcast.

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