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Letter to the Editor about Software Piracy

Dear AWN Editor,

This letter hopes to cast some light on the software piracy issue and its devastating effects on the animation industry. The company I manage, Digital Video, develops and sells through authorised distributors Toonz, a digital ink and paint and camera package that is very popular in the animation industry.

As a matter of fact it happens that Toonz is very popular not only among honest professionals in the animation industry, but also among pirates! Moreover, the problem has a magnitude much bigger than most people might imagine. I'm not referring here to young people...

Dear AWN Editor,

This letter hopes to cast some light on the software piracy issue and its devastating effects on the animation industry. The company I manage, Digital Video, develops and sells through authorised distributors Toonz, a digital ink and paint and camera package that is very popular in the animation industry.

As a matter of fact it happens that Toonz is very popular not only among honest professionals in the animation industry, but also among pirates! Moreover, the problem has a magnitude much bigger than most people might imagine. I'm not referring here to young people hacking the software and using it for their personal projects (action that -- although illegal and to be condemned without hesitation -- doesn't have a real impact on the industry); I refer instead to large companies using illegal software copies in commercial projects.

What I need to point out here is that the damage they cause to the animation industry as a whole goes beyond the losses suffered by the software vendors, and in fact hit the honest professionals that compete in the market using legal software copies hardest.

The ripple effect goes even further, as it might be argued that some indirect responsibility may also be cast on those subcontracting work to pirate companies, regardless if they're informed or not that their product has been made using illegal software copies. This line of action is currently being investigated by our legal department.

While "professional" piracy is wide spread in Asia, the latter legal risk is especially relevant to American and European companies as they both subcontract large amounts of work to Asia.

You might believe that pirates are cautiously working in silence to avoid being discovered, but -- believe me -- this is definitely not the case! To give you a sense of what I'm saying, let me cite some examples from one of the markets where piracy is most prevelant: Korea.

We've recently been told by one of our major Japanese clients that has released several blockbusters, that work has been subcontracted and diligently executed by a company in Korea called JEM ... it's a pity that JEM has never been a Toonz client! Here's another case that might be funny if not so harmful to our industry: every month or so Animation Magazine publishes an advertisement from Saerom Animation in which Saerom states that it owns 26 copies of Toonz. If you go to their Website they even tell you the location of this technology (the 7th floor of their beautiful building)! However, once again, Saerom has never bought a copy of Toonz. And the story goes on and on: Dr. Movie (and its affiliated company Dr. & Moi), P & P, Mago 21, Sunmin Image Pictures, etc.

Then there's the second type of pirates -- those trying to legitimize themselves with the purchase of a minimal amount of software copies but then executing the bulk of their work with illegal copies. Also in this case the damage to the industry is profound as honest companies in the same market have to face very unfair competition.

Sometimes reality goes beyond imagination. We have a very honest and professional North American customer that -- being aware of the problem -- decided to purchase the software to be used overseas. You could not believe that our support received from the Korean subcontractor files that were indubitably produced from pirate copies! Funny? Not at all, as of course the pirate copies used were from an older version of the software. Another example that this problem costs companies very real dollars.

I've used Korea as an example but I could produce a list of similar cases for China, India, the Philippines and beyond. I also want to express publicly my solidarity for the many honest users we have in Korea. We owe them our respect and support and we're willing to help them fight as hard as possible against their unfair competitors. To do that, we must "follow the money" (as in a police investigation...) and knock on the culprits' doors. American and European companies need to know about the risk of being involved with the unfair business practices of their subcontractors. They have to raise their level of attention to this topic, always requesting that their subcontractors only use legal software copies.

If AWN can contribute to make this happen, the whole animation industry will win a battle: software companies will regain a share of the market that is currently lost, honest Asian companies will finally face fair competition and big U.S. and European players in the animation industry will not expose themselves to the risk of indirect involvement in a criminal act, which is what software piracy is.

Sincerely, Claudio Mattei Managing Director Digital Video

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