Pirates in Nicaragua Steal Titanic

3/08/1998 7:00 PM Eastern

What cable operator would have the nerve, let alone the
stomach, to pirate the highest-grossing film in the history of cinema? Multivisión, a
Nicaraguan cable operator that reaches barely 1,000 subscribers in the capital of Managua,

A Multivisión employee last week admitted over the
telephone that the company has provided its subscribers with two showings of 20th Century
Fox's Titanic on its cable network, Canal 20, in an unabashed attempt to
compete with a local movie theater, Cinemas. The low-level employee, who refused to be
named, had no qualms about describing Multivisión's flagrant violation of copyright.

"A friend of ours got hold of a copy of the movie,
saying, 'Look here, I've got a big surprise' ... There was so much demand.
Everyone was asking us to put it on," she gushed.

Asked if she knew that it was illegal, the source replied,
"We knew that ... but just everyone was asking for the movie. We don't
have a choice but to please our customers."

At first glance, it may seem foolhardy for a tadpole of a
cable operator to risk the wrath of a mighty U.S. studio. Then again, it's not an
uncommon circumstance in the tiny Central American country and in some of its neighboring
countries. What's noteworthy is the temerity of ripping off such a splashy,
high-profile film, which ranks as the first motion picture ever to cross the $1 billion
worldwide box-office watermark.

Fox faces a special set of conditions in Nicaragua, which
is still recovering from the civil war of the 1980s. The country has no copyright law,
although the new, pro-U.S. government of President Arnoldo Alemán has vowed that it will
produce one.

In Multivisión's case, pressure was enough to sink Titanic
from its subscribers' TV screens. Flack from Fox, the Motion Picture Association
and Cinemas prompted the company to stop broadcasting the movie.

Nevertheless, the situation highlights the task that pay TV
programmers working through the MPA have in fighting piracy in Central America, an
acknowledged trouble spot. Piracy can reach over 50 percent in parts of the region, where
copyright laws are often inadequate, if they exist at all.

Making illegal copies of movies can be done as easily, and
as primitively, as walking into a theater with a concealed, hand-held video recorder.
Reports of background noises and bobbing, shadowy heads on Multivisión's version of Titanic
indicated that "it was copied in a cinema," said Enrique Diez, head of the
Asociación de Distribuidoras de Películas, a Panama City, Panama-based arm of the MPA.
The Asociación is also looking into reports of illegal copies of Titanic found in
Guatemala and Honduras, Diez said.

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