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Peru's DVD Pirates Are Its Top Culture Dealers

How Lima's notorious bootleggers use low methods to deliver high culture.

by Derek Mead
Aug 28 2014, 2:50pm

In Pasaje 18 of Lima's Polvos Azules shopping mall, you'll find racks of DVD burners humming away while fluorescent lights cast their glare across the glitter of thousands of bootleg movies in telltale cellophane wrappers. It looks like a scene right out of cyberpunk. But for many Peruvians, whose access to alternatives like Netflix is hampered by some of the slowest internet speeds on the globe, bootleg DVDs remain a primary source for accessing current movie releases.

Motherboard's Mariano Carranza recently paid a visit to Lima to check out how the DVD bootleggers operate, and they said Johnny Law has cooled down on the piracy crackdown in recent years. It hasn't always been that way; As a shop owner named El Chino told us, "I had problems with the law about 11 years ago. They'd stop by and confiscate my films. But they don't do that anymore, mainly because this has grown too much." In 2006, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) estimated that some 98 percent of music distributed in Peru between 2004 and 2005 was pirated.

Image: Da Sánchez

A 2010 report from the IIPA—which, it's important to note, is a major copyright coalition representing US copyright interests—stated that "Piracy in the Peruvian marketplace continues to be a significant problem, undercutting legitimate business. Hard goods piracy is widespread, with burned optical discs (infringing content on CD-Rs and DVD-Rs) the favored medium of street piracy."

The report also noted the enforcement issue. "The most pressing problem for the copyright industries in Peru continues to be inadequate criminal enforcement and deficient administrative sanction for copyright infringement," it said. Bootleg DVDs in Peru have been prevalent for long enough that even Blockbuster's demise in the country was blamed on piracy.

Image: Da Sánchez

But what the 2010 report doesn't mention—along with news reports based on the IIPA findings— is access. As we've seen in study after study, the best way to combat piracy is to make movies easier to watch. Netflix has long been the largest user of bandwidth in the US—dethroning BitTorrent in the process—because it provides not only a legal user experience, but a better one. 

Piracy statistics in Peru following the in-country launch of Netflix in 2011 are harder to find; in 2013, the IIPA still listed Peru on its watch list, but that's based on 2011 data. Most studies would suggest that the rise of Netflix would lead to a decline in piracy, but it's more complicated than that. The popularity of things like torrent site Popcorn Time is rooted in the fact that even legal outlets still have to sort through international licensing agreements to bring content to foreign viewers. 

Image: Da Sánchez

Peru's high piracy rates show that there's a market for music and movies with huge potential for monetization. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation has argued, restrictive copyright powers aren't the answer, as eliminating piracy completely is impossible. But if stemming rampant privacy is the goal, continually improving delivery of copyrighted content to consumers is key. "I'm your dealer. I deliver your pirated films," bootlegger Santos Demonios said. "Your visual drug."

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