Pirated DVDs seized at mall
$800,000 worth taken from Markham stores
Canada accused of being soft on counterfeiting
RCMP officers investigating Markham's Pacific Mall have seized more than $800,000 worth of goods, including more than 30,000 DVDs, 3,000 video games and 1,600 multi-game cartridges, suspected of being bootlegged.
The seizure comes days after the United States put Canada on a watch list of countries thought to be doing a poor job of enforcing intellectual-property rights.
"We had received a considerable amount of complaints from rights holders that the products in the mall are counterfeit," said RCMP Const. Judy Laurence. "We searched four stores that we had previous dealings with."
The search was carried out under warrant April 27. Charges are expected but haven't been laid so far. One difficulty with charging companies under copyright law, Laurence explained, is that ignorance about the law can protect them.
"In order to lay charges under the Copyright Act, companies have to know what they're doing is wrong," she said.
Laurence said the RCMP spent time at the mall educating managers and staff that it was illegal to sell counterfeit goods. Mall property manager Henry Fu declined requests for an interview.
A visit to the mall yesterday in search of cheap knock-offs found slim pickings. Video CDs of movies like Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles were easily found for less than $15. John Sweeney, investigator with the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association, explained that VCD players are still widely used in Asia, though they offer lower-quality viewing than DVDs. VCDs fall into a "grey area" in the law; they're legitimate copies of movies but licensed for sale only in Asia.
Before last week's raid, Sweeney said, illegal copies of movie DVDs, often made in Malaysia or China, were easily available in Pacific Mall after 4 p.m. and during the weekend.
"(Storeowners) were trying to escape the notice of the RCMP."
While video games were scarce, yesterday's shoppers could find some bargain music. Openly displayed DVDs by Sonic Youth, Justin Timberlake and the Andrew Lloyd Webber Cats soundtrack were on sale at $4 each, in flimsy plastic and cardboard packaging instead of the standard jewel case.
"I guarantee if they cost $4 they are fake," said Graham Henderson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association. He worries that any penalties to stores won't be enough of a deterrent.
"They'll be slapped with a $3,000, $5,000 or $10,000 fine, and they'll look at it as a cost of doing business and do it again."
Intellectual-property lawyer John Cotter said the maximum penalty is a $1 million fine and five years in prison.
Canada has had "a problem with enforcement of trade intellectual-property rights" and been criticized for it, Cotter said. Being put on the U.S. watch list next to many developing countries is a signal that Canada needs to step up its efforts.