Piracy: A Good or Bad Thing?

by Audrey Lim, Feb 19, 2003 | Destinations: Malaysia / Kuala Lumpur
The Real McCoy: Guess Which?

The Real McCoy: Guess Which?

The Real McCoy: Guess Which?

The truth is may not always paint a pretty picture. The fact that this country is riddled with piracy is not just one person's fault, but that of many others, plus extra contributing factors.

Asides from Malaysia, there are many more countries plaque by the same problem; Thailand, Korea, China, Indonesia, to name a few. The fact that Asian countries are the main hub to piracy is due to many reasons and although it may be deemed a bad thing, yet it sometimes does contribute to tourism and the country's economy... ugly as that may sound! No matter how self-righteous a person may be, there have been many cases of foreigners coming into these countries and shopping their hearts.

The thing is... we love piracy! Except for the hypocrite few who are sworn to licensed products, I am very sure the rest of the country love the fact that we have a thing called piracy. Why are we so enthusiastic about it then? Allow me to explain our stand from a personal point of view. To the outside world, everyone thinks that piracy is a bad thing. Piracy means stealing from the rightful owners, cheating them off their royalties and hard work, and benefiting every cent right into our own pockets. If that is so, then why are there so many righteous people condoning to piracy in this country? In all ways, Malaysians are luckier than a lot of other Asian countries. For a developing country, we are indeed developing very well and our capital city, Kuala Lumpur, can actually stand tall amongst other cities in the world. With modernity, the citizens are well-educated and well-informed. Yet beneath it all, we still enjoy our little moments browsing at pirated software/VCDs/DVDs stands or shops. Of course, there are many other items that are in this category, but software and movie CDs make up the bulk of it.

Oh, there is a minority group who would scream foul each time they see someone buying pirated goods, claiming that they would never touch a thing like that, but have anyone for one moment stop to wonder why the pirates are doing well and thriving to this very day, despite strong crackdowns by authorities ever so often?

There are many reasons to this issue.

Price Factor

The number 1 reason lies in the price. A piece of pirated PC game (CD-format of course) is priced at RM4 to RM6 (US$1.00 - US$1.50). The price difference depends on customers' loyalty with the proprietor and location of the shop. A pirated VCD is priced at RM5 (US$1.30) or cheaper if you buy a few more copies. There are several places that sell three VCDs for RM10, which makes each copy about RM3.30 (US$0.80). Pirated DVD movies, on the other hand, sells for RM9 (US$2.30) for a DVD5 copy and RM15 (US$4.00) for a DVD9 copy. DVD games for game consoles are priced at RM5 (US$1.30) each. Best of all, the DVDs are region-free.

Now, let's look at the prices for the original products as sold in Malaysia.

An original PC game is priced anywhere from RM120 - RM199 (US$32 - US$52). A licensed VCD (not titles that are hot off the rack) is from RM30 (US$7.90) and above. Bulk sales will not bring down the prices for VCDs. DVDs for game consoles are sold for RM150 (US$40) and above for each whilst DVD movies are easily above RM100 (US$26) each, with RM100 as the lower range.

Compare the difference. For every piece of original PC game that I buy, I can buy 32 other titles of pirated ones. As for VCD, the licensed product is 6 times (and more) expensive than the pirated version. I need not elaborate on the rest.

How about quality of the product, you may ask. Well, of course there is some compromising one must do when buying pirated products. A few years ago before DVD became the in-thing, it was VCD movies everywhere. A VCD player is cheap too and you can get easily get a player for less than RM150 (US$40). Because of the sudden demand for the latest movies, VCDs became cheaper and makeshift stalls sprung up at parking lots, shop's corner, night market, and along busy streets. However, the quality of the movie was really bad. It was so bad that one can actually imagine the "pirate" sitting in a cinema holding on to a video camera, busy filming away. There are also additional "commentaries" taped into your pirated copy of "Con Air", for example. These commentaries are courtesy of movie-goers who happened to be seated near the busy pirate. Sometimes, towards the end of the movie just before the credits roll, you can actually see silhouette of movie-goers leaving the cinema. Asides from interrupted sounds, one must also be contented with tilted picture at certain scenes and bad subtitles.

These are some of the inconveniences of pirated VCDs. Despite it, there was no stopping us from buying it.

Now, much have changed in the piracy market! With the popularity and cheaper DVD players, the quality and sound of the movies have been greatly improved. This improvement spilt over to the VCD market as well, and now, we can watch both VCD and DVD movies with good sound and picture quality. Best of all, the DVDs are as original as you would get of the licensed product, complete with extras, trailers, and bonus features. To think that you are paying ten times lower for a copy of a movie is quite a strong temptation. Can anyone resist it?

I have often questioned as to why the prices cannot be lowered. I mean, everyone knows that piracy can be curbed if only prices of original products are lowered to an affordable range, and not exorbitantly crazy. It is understandable why anyone living in the States will rather buy the original product than a pirated one. I would if I could, but it is beyond the means of an average income-earner. How much does the latest game in the market cost? Take for example, The Sims Online. A huge hype surrounds it and many Malaysians simply cannot wait to get their hands on it. The original copy of The Sims Online cost RM199 (US$52). It comes with the game CD and 30-days free trial period. After the first 30-days, you must purchase a time card that is priced at RM120 (US$32) for 90-days. Now, take the standard of living and apply it to the American way of life. Would anyone pay US$199 for a PC game and another US$120 for 3 months of online enjoyment? Is anyone willing to fork out US$120 for the latest DVD movie without complaining the least? With The Sims Online as an example, the average Malaysian would be spending about RM320 for a game, which to many is more than 10% of one's monthly income.

With these kind of statistics, it is not difficult to understand why piracy is a wonderful thing. But alas, with the currency exchange, it sometimes cannot be helped.

Censored/banned movies

The second reason (and a totally valid one at that) is the mindset of the Censorship Board of this country. Any movie deemed too violent, sexual, horrifying, and religiously-contradicting would be banned. Period.

A recent example would be the Daredevil movie. So many citizens were looking forward to the show. Wrigley's, the sponsor, had already spent lots on banners, posters and billboards. The hype is up and hot, and the movie is expected to hit the silver screens on February 20th. On February 16th, the movie got the axe. Daredevil is now banned because it is deemed too violent. Imagine the frustrations of fans. Mostly, a movie gets banned for its sexual themes. As this is a Muslim country, there is no more need to explain the reasons. So, say goodbye to movies like Boogie Nights, and 40 Days and 40 Nights! Forget about raunchy music videos too.

Sometimes, a little good movie managed to slip past the authorities and voila! We'll get to watch it at the cinema. Swordfish got by despite the violence and the little scene in front of the laptop beneath the desk. Oh, it was censored of course! Triple X got by fine also. At other times, a movie is tagged 18-SG (for violence) or 18-SX (for sexual connotations/theme). But you know what? It gets censored too. I mean, I have always wondered at the need to tag a movie for those "above 18" years of age, if everything gets butchered all the same. James Bond movies have been getting the scissors for many years and continued to do so right up to its latest flick, Die Another Day.

This is when piracy comes to save the day! It has always baffled me to think that the Censorship Board presumed all Malaysians are half-wits who cannot watch Boogie Nights like an adult and then NOT go out and be a porn star! Censorship does spoil a movie somewhat especially when bad censorship was done and dialogues are cut off. With pirated movies, we get to watch banned shows and check out censored scenes from our favorite movies! And there is nothing wrong with wanting that.

Speedy Movies

The joy of piracy is also in the speedy delivery. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out in the pirated stalls a few weeks before the movie hit the theatres. The same goes for many other titles. There is always a certain satisfaction of watching something first, no matter how bad the quality is. Don't be surprised, some of the quality are way up there; and for a cheap price at the comfort of your home, piracy has some advantages. There are also some movies that one may miss out due to a busy lifestyle or school exams. Catching up is only a few bucks away!


I love the convenience of shopping for a PC/PS2 game, or VCD/DVD movie. These pirates can set up stalls just about anywhere. From the trunk of their car to little makeshift stands, they are there when you are done with your dinner or around the corner at your neighborhood night market. They are also around when you have completed your necessary 11 pm supper and felt like watching a movie before hitting the sack. It is when shops are closed; you know you can always get a good movie almost anywhere.

Peace of Mind

Lastly, peace of mind for many reasons! Imagine losing a PC game that you have paid US$200 for. Here you are, packing your bags and heading home for the summer holidays. Upon reaching home, you realized that you have misplaced your favorite new game, Command & Conquer: Generals. Crying won't make a difference, that's for sure. With pirated goods, it is simply a hop away plus another 5 bucks.

Despite the term "pirated goods", it does come with a little warranty for that peace of mind. If you purchase your products at a shop or regular stall, you may ask to glance at the movie before making a purchase. If in case the disc is faulty after the first hour into the movie, you can always bring it back for an exchange, no questions asked. That's quite a lot of satisfaction and peace of mind one can get for a mere RM15 or less.

At the end of the day, I am not advertising piracy nor am I in any way affiliated to anyone in this business. I am just a regular middle-income earner who believed that there is something good that comes out of this piracy business. However, if you are a visitor to this country and decided to buy cheap DVDs back by the boxes, let me warn you that if you are stopped at the Customs at the airport, there could be some serious problems... so, practice caution and discreet. After all, these are cheap stuff and they are really not worth getting busted for!

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