New word for U.K. pirates: Stop

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Representatives from across the U.K. film and home entertainment industries gathered Wednesday at BAFTA headquarters in London to join forces in the fight against film piracy.

The event, attended by MPAA chief Dan Glickman, signaled the start of a broader-based and enhanced focus on combating film theft in the U.K., which is estimated to have cost the local industry £459 million in 2006.

Dubbed the Stop Film & Video Theft Project, the latest initiative will concentrate on widening work in enforcement, educating young people in schools and colleges about the effects of piracy, and raising public awareness and awareness among Internet service providers.

The project will be backed by additional money from the film and TV industries, with sources placing the extra funding at £7 million-£8 million ($14.1 million-$16.2 million) during the next two years.

Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism Margaret Hodge told the gathering that the U.K. film industry "punched massively above its weight" and the government is intent on helping it to grow. She noted, however, that the challenges for the industry lay in globalization, which helps facilitate piracy, and new technology.

"Last year alone, thieves cost the U.K. film and TV industry almost £0.5 billion — that's more than five times the cost of the last 'Harry Potter' film or more than eight times 'Casino Royale's' takings at the U.K. boxoffice," Hodge said. "We urgently need to reduce the number of illegal downloads and make it much tougher for film thieves to operate. We can only do this through better enforcement and educating the public. I welcome this move by the U.K. industry to unite against the scourge of film theft."

She also called on the industry to provide an accessible alternative to illegal downloads.

"Making it easier to be 'legit' is something we've all got to do much more work on," she said. "The under-21s are probably your best customers but are also those who download illegally most often."

Agreeing with the minister on the need to provide "hassle-free" ways to get legitimate online product, Glickman argued that the majority of illegal downloads took place because they were "free and easy."

"It's our job to tell people that it is still wrong and it is still theft," he said. "Our job is to let people know through a variety of means that it is the wrong thing to do, and when they do that it is a great disincentive to those, particularly on the independent and smaller film side, to continue producing films.

"The other thing we have to do is show people that what we do is worth protecting," Glickman added. "You can't just hit people over the head, you have to tell people that this is important, it is significant, it makes a difference to their lives, and if you don't protect it, it won't be out there."

Speaking on behalf of the U.K. Film Council, Billy Watson said the film sector as a whole contributes £4.3 billion ($8.7 billion) annually to the British economy.

"(The sector has) actually grown 39% in two years," he said. "With an average of 120 films made in Britain per year, responsible for 11% of global film production, the U.K. industry is making vital and widespread contributions not only to employment but tourism and exports. (But) the sector is still facing a determined attack from various forms of film theft."
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