THE SA recording industry loses R500million a year to pirates, half of that on the streets of Johannesburg, says James Lennox, chief executive of a local copyright agency.
And the courts aren't much help. Oupa Moloi , an anti-piracy enforcement officer at the Recording Industry of SA (Risa), says the courts' "lax" approach to pirates usually counters efforts to force them off the streets.
Officers from customs, the South African and Metro Police, and representatives of groups such as the Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft (Safact) and Risa stage regular raids in central Joburg.
"We at Risa go and buy the pirated disc and take it to the police. Then the police arrest the vendor.
But in court the vendors get small fines ranging from R500 to R2000 and are back on the streets again," said Moloi.
But even the raids barely dent the illicit trade. Moloi said the police don't take piracy seriously. So far this year only 63 street traders have been arrested in Johannesburg.
"Illegal and pirated copies are sold at no more that R20 a copy, but if you were to buy them legitimately they would cost between R80 and R100," says Dumisani Rorwana of the government's Film and Publication Board.
"In Gauteng alone between October 2008 and March 2009 a total of 18863 pirated . films were confiscated by police in joint raids with us and 80percent of those were from street vendors in [central] Johannesburg," said Rorwana, the film board's head of compliance.
A senior state advocate at the NPA specialised commercial crime unit, Leana Fick, is pleased with the courts' efforts to fight piracy. "We have a 100percent conviction rate," she said.
But Moloi countered, saying the industry was still losing R500million a year.
He said the penalties imposed on vendors were inconsistent with the Copyright Act, which stipulated that "an offender must be fined R5000 and item, or three years in jail".
Fick said that the courts considered the perpetrator's income.
Senior Superintendent John Matroos of the police's commercial branch said the high price of legitimate items drove piracy.
But high prices don't justify buying pirated goods.
"What the public doesn't know or realise is that they are mostly supporting organised crime syndicates," said Braam Schoeman, Risa's anti-piracy enforcement unit manager.
"These syndicates are involved with people smuggling, drugs and firearms. The public don't realise . that they are killing the industry," he said.