JEDDAH, 15 March 2004 — Pirated DVDs of controversial Hollywood blockbuster “The Passion of Christ” have hit the streets and are selling like hot cakes, according to street vendors.
The film is being sold outside of supermarkets, and out of the trunk of cars for the price of SR30 or less. A copy obtained by Arab News was of high quality.
A street vendor said on condition of anonymity vendors underestimated demand for the movie because the dialogue is in Latin and ancient Aramaic rather than English. “My customers don’t like subtitled movies, but they are buying this one.”
The film, which its director Mel Gibson claims is a faithful rendering of the Christian gospels, has whipped up a storm of controversy in the US because of fears its depiction of Jews could fuel anti-Semitism.
“A majority of these DVDs come from the Far East by way of GCC states,” he said. “Pirated CDs and DVDs of latest movies are often available in Jeddah weeks before the films are even released in the United States.”
Mel Gibson’s movie company, Icon, is suing a Hollywood post-production company claiming bad security allowed three employees to copy the film.
The bootlegs eventually turned up online and on the black market.
According to the 2003 International Intellectual Property Alliance report, “Saudi Arabia should remain on the watch list. The piracy situation in Saudi Arabia continued to improve for most sectors in 2002, with cooperation from the Ministry of Information and sustained raiding that has eaten into piracy rates for the motion picture and business software industries.”
In January of last year inspectors in Kingdomwide raids on shops dealing in pirated CDs and computer programs confiscated unlicensed and pirated software worth SR3.5 million.
Last October the Ministry of Information in cooperation with the Security Board of Jeddah also clamped down on stores suspected of selling pirated software, and seized over 20,000 CDs loaded with copied Playstation games and over 300 Arabic and foreign DVD movies and over 23,000 videotapes.
The Ministry of Culture has now started implementing a royal decree which provides for fines of SR250,000 for sale and distribution of Playstation CDs in the first instance. Repeat offenders will be charged SR500,000 in addition to a jail sentence and having their shop closed down, according to Al-Yaum newspaper.
Misfar Saad Al-Misfar, deputy minister of culture, told the paper his ministry confiscated more than 350,000 pirated Playstation CDs from East Asia.