Online pirates join COVID-19 in ruining film venture of actor Alfred Vargas; other MMFF producers

Published February 15, 2021, 9:35 PM

by Ben Rosario

Successful as an actor and a politician, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas  dabbled in a third occupation as a film producer but this time,  financial success has  been thwarted by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and cyber-pirates.

Rep. Alfred Vargas

In a privilege speech on Monday, February 15, Vargas decried the rampant incidence of movie piracy in the Philippines as he admitted that cases of copyright violations and outright online theft have victimized producers of films that participated in the recently-concluded 2020 Metro Manila Film Festival.

Vargas produced the film “Tagpuan”, a romance drama, in which he starred in as leading man. The movie won third best film among ten entries to the MMFF.

Speaking based on his experience, the three-term lawmaker lamented that movie piracy in the country had gone “from bad to worse”, adding that the crime has endangered “the survival of the industry and the livelihood of thousands of movie workers.”

“It is for this reason that I am asking Congress, through the Special Committee on Creative Industry and Performing Arts, and other concerned committees, to look into the piracy that occurred during the last film festival, and draft the necessary legislation to curb the proliferation of movie piracy,” Vargas said.

Instantly, Vargas’ call for a congressional inquiry received the support of at least 30 solons led by  Pangasinan Rep. Christopher V.P. De Venecia, chairperson of the special House panel.

De  Venecia warned that unless swift and decisive action is taken to address the worsening incidence of online piracy, consumers will ultimately suffer because affected producers might lost interest in doing films.

Vargas, vice chairman of the Committee on Public Information and member of the Special Committee, lamented the high piracy incidence in the Philippines, citing a 2020 survey commissioned by the Coalition Against Piracy, a unit under the  Asia Video Industry Association, showing that the incidence of movie piracy online in the country at a high 49 percent. 

Vargas noted that in contrast, online piracy had dropped significantly in Malaysia and Indonesia. The report said that online piracy in Malaysia is at 22 per cent, representing a 64 percent decrease from the previous year. Meanwhile, the piracy rate for Indonesia dropped to 28 percent in 2020 from 63 percent in 2019.

“These countries were able to bring down the incidence of online movie piracy significantly because of effective, determined, and pro-active measures put in place by their governments to stop the proliferation of online piracy sites,” Vargas said.

“Mahigpit ang kanilang mga batas. Gumagamit sila ng technology. Maraming nahuhuli. Maraming nakukulong na mga pirata, (Their laws are strict.  They use technology.  Many are caught. Many pirates are jailed)” he stated.

Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, Vargas said the entertainment and recreation industry had tallied a 38.2% drop in employment, or some 132,000 jobs as of October 2020.

According to Vargas the recently-concluded generated only P19 million in online ticket sales for the ten entries which is a mere 1.9 percent of the 2019 MMFF revenue of over P995 million.

Records show that movie producers of usual top-grossing films have avoid the 2020 MMFF, apparently aware that with the closure of cinema houses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the likelihood of a huge return of investment is minimal, if not nil.