El Paquete Semanal – Cuba

by Ernesto Oroza | designer & artist

Images by Ernesto Oroza





Cuba is a Caribbean country ruled since 1959 by a self-declared communist regime that came to power through armed struggle. The expropriation and nationalization measures implemented by the new government in the early years of the revolution resulted in a severe conflict of interest with the United States. As a result, John F. Kennedy declared in 1962 a commercial and financial embargo on the island, which is still in force (2015). Informational isolation and inaccessibility to basic resources and goods have characterized daily life in Cuba for over 50 years. For decades the government itself has practiced audiovisual piracy to supply materials to the official television channels. In the universities of the country, hundreds of books and international periodical publications have been pirated to meet the educational and informational needs of students.


Books distributed to the students by the Institute of

Design in Havana (originals and pirate copies)





It all started maybe 10 or 15 years ago. I remember that my nephew was the first one in the family doing it. He had a little USB hard drive, and one day he got a large quantity of films from a neighbor – things such as National Geographic nature documentaries, music, action films, and video clips. Computers were rare in Cuba at the time. You could find maybe one computer on each block. Some people who had computers started collecting and selling kits of digital contents; it became a way to earn money. You could buy one terabyte of contents, connect the hard drive directly to a television, and watch it without any computer. You just needed to bring your own hard drive to the seller and transfer the files at his place. You could even customize the package by asking for a part of it only (to save money) or for more specific contents (only kung fu movies, TV shows, games, music, etc.). Today, El Paquete could include series, films, soap operas (people love Korean soap operas right now), documentaries, music, video clips, reality shows, graphic humor, comics and cartoons, software, apps, antivirus software, language courses, magazines in PDF format, advertising, and an offline version of Revolico, among other materials. The contents for each issue of El Paquete are usually collected from online sources. Some foreigners and people connected to foreign companies, embassies, or consulates have satellite antennas in their houses, and some people have illegal satellite antennas too. Maybe the creators of El Paquete are people working for the government in official institutions with large digital bandwidth that allows downloading long videos and music compilations. The fact is that somebody is recording the materials, transferring them onto hard drives, and preparing a new compilation every week (El Paquete Semanal, “The Weekly Package”). There’s also extensive clandestine traffic of digital devices between Cuba and Miami. This includes USB flash drives and hard drives, but some cultural content for El Paquete is also transported this way. The cost of a full El Paquete is about 1 CUC (24-25 Cuban pesos), so in terms of local income, it’s expensive given that the average monthly salary is between 15 and 20 CUC a month.


But in Cuba quite often multiple generations live in the same house: grandparents, parents, and children. So the expense of a single copy of El Paquete is often shared among the extended family. For those who distribute the package, the cost, if acquired directly from the matrix, varies according to the day on which it was bought between 10.00 CUC and 3.00 CUC, Sunday being the most expensive. These dealers cross the city by bike and have dozens of clients who spend 10 CUC weekly. Now there is new street vendor license available named “Disk Seller and Buyer,” so many people are selling partial contents of El Paquete using DVDs and CDs, especially series, video clips, and international soap operas.





El Paquete became a big problem in Cuba because the government is particularly afraid of this mode of content distribution. According to the authorities, not only is it out of control and promotes contamination by American culture, its artistic/intellectual level is also quite low, as it’s full of American blockbusters and Mexican soap operas. The government claims that Cubans instead need educational material for young people, something that is good for the new generation, not films with sex or violence. Nevertheless, I remember that for many years every Saturday at 9 p.m. you could watch two or three pirated American movies on national television, blockbusters like Die Hard for example. People loved it, and it was common to say in a conversation that something was like  “Saturday’s film,” meaning that it had sex and violence. But when the phenomena of El Paquete started, the real preoccupation of the government wasn’t the artistic quality of its content, but politics; they didn’t want it to be used for spreading information against the government. This USB package was spontaneous, unpredictable, and impossible to control. Of course it quickly became illegal; if you were caught selling it, you could go to prison or the government could confiscate your computer. But some other methods to stop El Paquete were also tested. One example was the creation of a direct rival: the authorities made their own Paquete named Maletín or Mochila, which means a “bag” or “backpack” in English. Inside, instead of US blockbusters, you could find classical movies and music and educational materials. Actually, people found it very boring and nobody liked it, so this anti-Paquete system was a total failure. And of course it was just as pirated as the clandestine one: the government did not pay for its contents either; it was all “stolen.”



Another attempt involved the creation of anti-Paquete propaganda: I remember a very dramatic report on the TV news about computer virus attacks all over the world that showed USB and El Paquete iconography and claimed that hackers could use these viruses to steal your information or destroy your computer. Another faction of the government, mostly intellectuals, are proposing to contaminate El Paquete with cultural contents, I guess Godard, Glauber Rocha, and Bergman, but for many this will be an extension of the indoctrination that Cubans have endured for more than 50 years through information, education, and cultural systems. Anyway, before the government pro-posed it, some cultural producers such as reggaeton singers, filmmakers, designers and editors, among others, began using El Paquete for the distribution of their works and activities. There are even some original materials created specifically for this distribution channel. There are many local bands which created video clips especially for El Paquete: national television does not promote them and YouTube is banned, so they use El Paquete for distribution and promotion (e.g., La Diosa “El Paquete”, with a strong message: “If you’re not inside the Paquete, you don’t exist!”).

El_Paquete - La Diosa




Revolico is the Cuban version of Craigslist, a website where people can directly publish small ads to sell or exchange different kinds of goods and services: cars, jobs, clothes, animals, electronics, etc. The problem is that people need to have access to the Internet to use it, and in Cuba it’s mostly impossible. People in Cuba love and need Revolico because it’s the only way to exchange materials, information, and goods. So Revolico went inside El Paquete as a list of small ads. In a recent interview I conducted with the creators of Revolico, Hiram (a co-founder) explained that they are now working on a new offline version of this platform that will be ready soon to take advantage of the El Paquete distribution system.





Today, in Cuba more and more people have computers and other electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones, but home Internet and Wi-Fi access remains forbidden unless you have special permission from the Ministry of Communications (recently the government opened 35 points with public Wi-Fi around the country with a cost of 2 CUC per hour, and service is limited). As a consequence, there is a new phenomenon called SNet (Street Net), a sort of clandestine network. At the beginning young people started to use telephone cables to connect computers in the neighborhood in order to play games in a network. Later, they found a way to connect the computers using Wi-Fi. Today, this network consists of about 10,000 computers. The police also access the system to monitor the flux of information. The government warns that if you share counter-revolutionary material or other forbidden content, it will break the whole SNet system. Despite this, SNet has become one of the main avenues for playing collective games and information distribution. Besides SNet, there is also a governmental Internet, a very slow and monitored intranet. Every e-mail that is written in Cuba is tracked by the political police. There are many systems to monitor key words. Some government employees or institutions have a faster and more direct Internet connection, with access to Yahoo, Hotmail, etc., but it’s still impossible to access other big international platforms such as YouTube and Google Maps. Recently, I collaborated with some SNet administrators to test the possibilities of the net. We designed a small program and inserted it to produce a collective poem based in the exquisite corpse method. We got a poem of 3,000 words in just a week, meaning that many users of SNet were involved.


thepiratebook.net - 2015

Marakka 2000 in Cuba

by Ernesto Oroza | artist & designer

Excerpts from Marakka 2012, a documentary

by Magdiel Aspillaga and Ernesto Oroza, 2012





Since 1983, Waldo Fernandez “Marakka”, who arrived in Miami as part the Mariel exodus (1980), has been assembling an archive of Cuban audiovisual memory. The collection, which functions commercially under the “Marakka 2000” brand, relies on and exploits a loophole created by current Cuba – USA diplomatic relations, and is sustained by a precise and astute understanding of current procedures regarding the protection of copyright in the USA. Each generation of emigrants has put its nostalgic claims to the archive, which has more than 14,000 objects. Waldo has processed all this material in order to add new credits, remove sensitive copyright issues, and even re-edit the dramaturgical time and pace of serials and soap operas in order to adjust them for suitable commercial formats. The pinnacle of the archive lies in the documentaries that Waldo himself has directed and edited using video clips and sounds from his collection.





“It all began in 1983, a long time ago, as a result of nostalgia. One day, a man told me, ‘Hey, I have a Cuban film here.’ And I said to myself, ‘Wow! A Cuban film in the United States?’ It was The Man from Maisinicu. Then, I was overcome with nostalgia and I wanted to watch the movie. I had been in the U.S. for three years, and I was feeling a little bit homesick. “Back then, it was not like today when you can easily make a copy. I had to rent a VCR to make a copy of the video, a very bad copy by the way. It was so bad that you almost needed to include signs to recognize actors. But I watched it, and I felt homesick. Then, I said to myself, ‘If this happened to me that I don’t want to hear anything about Cuba, then everyone can feel homesick.”



“I’m an automotive electrician by trade. Cinema was a hobby for me. And, as I said before, I was overcome with nostalgia for Cuba, and I was eager to know and watch things about Cuba and to collect them. It was in the mid eighties when I realized that there was a business at hand, not only with Cuban films but also with Spanish, French, or any other movies that people watched in Cuba.”



“When I brought the first movie, I was a bit scared. I bought it in Puerto Rico. It was Se Permuta (House Swap). I bought hundreds of these movies in Puerto Rico. At first I was hesitant, but I sold them all in only one day. They would buy 20 and even 30 at the same time, and I said to myself, ‘What is this?’ It was then that I realized that there was a very good business in that. So, I started to get Cuban movies, and I sold more films from Cuba than from any other country. Se permuta was followed by Los pájaros tirándole a la escopeta (Birds Shooting the Shotgun), and the rest is history. I continued selling Cuban movies, and it was tremendous. And it is because of nostalgia that I began collecting things. Then, in 1987, I decided to sell my workshop, and I dedicated myself entirely to the film business. But, the time came when I reached the conclusion that it was better to sell only because today, once you rent something, they can make 10,000 copies just like I make them, and then it’s not a good business for me.”



“Normally, films came in VHS, the old video format. Later, I could get them in ¾-inch cassettes or 1-inch tapes. Then, with the arrival of DVD, everything was digitalized, and some other things we are getting in better quality. For example, some materials we had in VHS we managed to get in other countries with impeccable digital quality. That’s how the archive has been improving, and I can tell you that my archive is quite big. There’s not a similar one in the United States or in the rest of the world. Marakka has more than 14 or 16 thousand movies and documentaries from all over the world.”





“Legally, I can have all these archives, and I can make as many copies as I want. I mean, there’s something called ‘public domain.’ The movies are not copyrighted in their entirety; the movies that were shot in Cuba 40 or 50 years are not copyrighted here in the United States. There are also co-productions between Cuba and other countries such as France, Spain, or Germany, for example, which are not copyrighted in the United States either, even though they were registered in Spain. Paying copyright fees to Cuba would be a violation of the embargo, the Torricelli Act, and other laws. So, it’s like an Internal Revenue Service inspector once told me: ‘We know who you are and what you do. You steal in an honorable way.’ And that’s what I do.”



“You have a deadline to register a movie. You can register a movie now that was made 30 years ago, but it should not be like that because you have 6 months to register it, a movie, a book, anything – you have 6 months to do it. If you don’t do in that period of time, it becomes part of the public domain, and, if you register it later, you have to notify me and then, only after that, I have to respect the copyright. Unfortunately, Cuba does not respect anything. Throughout the years, Cuba has never respected copyrights, and we are only doing what they do. “There’s the case of many American films that are in the public domain, but they have, for example, the lion of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios. So, perhaps the movie is not registered, but the lion is. In that case, you eliminate the lion and you can use the movie. “You make a film in the United States, and you don’t register it. However, the Copyright Office automatically gives you the copyright because you made it. But, if I make a copy of it, you can’t do anything against me because you have not registered it. For you to be able to sue me, you have to register it first, and then, after that date, I don’t make any more copies. “I don’t see myself as a pirate because I have rescued sort of a culture here. In Cuba they might say that I’m a pirate because I make copies of anything that Cuba could profit from here in the United States. But, these things that I do against Cuba and in my favor are not illegal. I know I’m stealing; I know I did not make them, but the law protects me because these movies are not copyrighted in the United States.”



“Although I’m probably the biggest pirate here according to the people, I have also been affected by piracy because, for example, if I get a new Cuban movie now and I try to sell in on the street, I don’t sell more than 10. So, I don’t waste my time trying to sell them to video stores. What’s the use of it if, once they buy one from me, the next day you can find it all over the stores and even in the flea market for just 3 dollars? And that hurts. But, I also did it, and when I did it, I used to sell hundreds and thousands of copies. Today, anyone has 4 little machines in their stores, and they record and make copies of anything, and you can’t fight against that. I can’t fight against it. “There are things that people don’t copy for ethical reasons. But, in general, people copy everything. Marakka is not the only one who makes copies. There are 200 Marakkas in Miami. And, as the saying goes, the law is made to be broken. First, they invented the Macrovision copy protection system, but soon others came up with an anti-Macrovision machine. And the same goes for the DVDs. Everything can be pirated. “People come here and they buy documentaries, sometimes the ones I made. And they ask me: ‘Can we copy it?’ I look at them and I tell them: ‘No, you should not.’ But if you can copy it, even though I told you that you shouldn’t do it, you can do whatever you want with it after you buy it. There’s nothing on the face of the earth that cannot be copied.”





“I was watching a movie and I saw the logo of Marakka, Marakka 2000, and I liked it. Then I checked it and it was not registered. So, I registered it and that’s the origin of the name. After that, Marakka was a success. People loved it. And sometimes they would tell me, ‘You will not get to the year 2000.’ But, it’s already 2011 and Marakka still exists.”





“I make most of the covers. There are designs, photos that I take from the original pictures. Most of them are in English, so I change them to Spanish. I do it myself or someone working with me does it. It’s very easy to make a cover. I have made thousands and, on other occasions, I can also take a picture directly from the film and I use it as a cover.”





“There are three volumes. The first one is from the old Cuban newscasts. It’s the only remaining color film material of Cuban panoramic views of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, all before 1959. And the rest I got it from people who have traveled to Cuba, of movies that include parts of different landscapes. And then you get a piece from here and a piece from there, you edit it, and you make it like that, splicing them. “The first one was made during the time of the video cassette and the others, many years later, as a compilation. Cubans of all ages are the ones who buy this. You go to a fair that is held once every year, the Cuba Nostalgia convention, and there you can see very old people, even 80-year-olds, and very young ones too. Some of them go because they are overcome with nostalgia for what they didn’t know and some others because they feel homesick. So, people of all ages buy these materials until the present day.”





“I call it ‘chopped film’ because first you choose a topic and then, out of the existing millions of movies, you have to extract excerpt by excerpt and splice them all in a one-theme material. That’s what I call ‘chopped film.’ What I did was the chopping. I took excerpt by excerpt. And this you can see in La Habana de los años 50 (The Havana of the 1950s) and in Cuba: Peligro en el Caribe (Cuba: Danger in the Caribbean). First, I have the idea of what I want to do and then I look for the material. I might be editing already and I remember that there is an excerpt in a film that could be useful and then I include it or change it. I know exactly which movie has what I need. For instance, you ask me for a man killing a lion. I have 17,000 films. I have thousands of the jungle, of Tarzan; there has to be a man killing a lion in one of them.”





“Sometimes there are movies with their beginnings missing, so I include it. For example, if they were made by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), I add a screen reading ‘The Cuban Film Institute…’ and I add some music as well, so that they have a decent beginning. And I do the same with movies from anywhere in the world, with westerns, anything. And some others lack their final credits, and I add a sign ‘The End’ and some music, something like that.
I get rid of many scenes. I call them ‘stupid material.’ For example, if there’s a woman walking in the countryside, looking at the sky, and it goes on for minutes, I take it out. In soap operas, I eliminate the credits of each episode because, if they are in the first one and in the end, what’s the use of having them again, and again, and again? I edit them as if it were a movie and that’s how you eliminate material that doesn’t need to be there.
I have a lot of ‘rotten movies.’ Well, by ‘rotten’ I mean that they are very poor quality; they are very old movies, VHS films, with tracking, not digital. So, you get them with better quality, digital. But, perhaps somebody made a digital copy with a different name. Then, what you do is put its real name, the one it is registered under. I call ‘rotten’ all the material of very poor quality.”


thepiratebook.net - 2015

Pirate Game Consoles in Brazil

Brazil, 80s & 90s

by Pedro Mizukami, researcher,

co-coordinator of the Brazilian components of

the “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies” project




Under the import substitution policy put in place in the early 80s, the Brazilian market was closed, and we could only get official machines through contraband, so local companies started to mass-produce clone machines. The earliest memory that I have of this involves the Nintendo Entertainment System. First came the Dynavision II by Dynacom (1989) and then the Phantom System by Gradiente (1990), probably the most popular NES clone, released right at the end of the import substitution policy. So alongside software piracy and pirated cartridges, we also had unlicensed pirate machines produced in Brazil. It was much cheaper to buy contraband machines than to buy the officially licensed, domestically assembled ones. Gradiente had an official license for the cartridges it commercialized, but it also treated unlicensed pirated cartridges under a different company name. They would officially release their licensed material for the unlicensed machines, but they would also produce unlicensed content. The pirated hardware and cartridge were mostly cross compatible; you could use an adaptor to load Japanese cartridges, and of course cartridges that you rented could be pirated or genuine.





What is interesting is that there were local customizations of video games, even with official and licensed games. Tec Toy, for instance, would produce versions of games with characters that were popular in Brazil at the time. We had a very popular series of comic books called Turma da Mônica, Monica’s Gang in English. Tec Toy produced versions of games using characters from Turma da Mônica, one was called Mônica no Castelo do Dragão (Monica at the Dragon’s Castle) released in 1991. The original game was called “Wonder Boy in Monster Land”; they just removed Wonder Boy from the cartridge, inserted Monica and Monica related characters, and commercialized that. That’s an official modification, but of course there were pirated ones as well. And there were also leaked, pre-released versions of games. I remember very clearly “World of Illusion,” a Mickey Mouse game. The version that we could rent in shops was a developer version (a pre-release), and it was actually much more interesting than the later commercialized one. The source of most of the pirated versions of console games was Paraguay, and during the NES era, most of the rental market of cartridges was pirated. It was very hard to find an official game, even from the USA, Europe, or Japan. Those eventually got into the market, but in small quantities.


thepiratebook.net - 2015

Music from Cellphones

by Christopher Kirkley (West Africa)

explorer, music archivist, artist, curator & DJ

Images by Christopher Kirkley





It all started when I was traveling and working in West Africa. My project was to collect and document local music with my field recorder. One day while riding on a bus I noticed that I was listening to three different songs playing on three different phones, and this went on for the entire ten-hour bus ride. I made some field recordings of it, and I think it was my first documentation of this type of practice. It got me thinking that I could start recording music from people’s cellphones. So I started talking to people about their phones. After that, I remember another moment that stood out. I met some people showing me their new phones with all these different recordings that they had made on them, and it was sort of wild when I realized I had access to so much documentation. One guy was a Touareg , and he had his own cellphone that could do basically all that my field recorder does. This gave me the idea that maybe I could start collecting and documenting data from cell phones.





All these exchanges lie between what we usually call piracy, meaning recordings of songs that are copyrighted, that have been recorded in actual studio, etc., and on the other side, songs that are just handmade recordings of spontaneous concerts… You encounter basically three tiers: the first one is copyrighted music, like Western or European music or even popular West African music, like Nigerian or Malian pop music, that was made in a studio and released on a CD. You can find the actual studio albums of some big African stars like Nahawa Doumbia. The second tier is home studio productions. Artists that don’t have access to big studios record at home, in DIY studios, with cheap computers. Often these artists don’t have any intention of ever selling the music. Sometimes, it’s made just for the sake of making music. The third tier would be actual cellphone recordings. For example, when a musician/Touareg is playing his guitar, several people hold their phone over him and start recording. They’re little souvenirs that people make for themselves, but they also form a part of this collection. Sometimes they might be a recording by the artist who sits down and wants to try out a new song, but the majority are social recordings. Music was the first thing people started sharing on their phones, but it’s also videos, jpegs, pngs, image files, etc.





Cellphone data sharing is an element of social life in Western Africa. I think that there’s a relatively slower pace of life here: one of the biggest places where I saw a lot of exchanges happening was while sitting around drinking tea. Drinking tea is a huge part of social life in West Africa, and it takes a while. At some point, when people are sitting silently and just passing time together, they start playing around with their phones and playing a song or passing the phone around and sharing pictures. They’d say, “Hey, let me see your phone,” and then they would flick through the photos or look through songs. Everyone is just showing off their collections of whatever. This is not really done in the Occident, where it mainly happens through social media.





In Africa it’s okay to play music in the public space. You can walk down the street while playing a song on your phone. People don’t get told to turn off their phones; it’s a loud and noisy environment. And when someone is walking by playing a song, you can also stop that person and ask for that song. So, in this environment of constant music being played, you’re also being advertised music all the time. You hear it and you can just take it, whenever you want, just by asking someone. I’ve done it plenty of times with total strangers. The sharing is primarily done through Bluetooth, where you pair the devices and you send media from one phone to another.





The individual files are shared from person to person with Bluetooth. The other form of transfer is made with MP3 downloaders (people, not software), cellphone vendors who also sell bulk MP3s. So if you get a new cellphone or a new memory card and you want to load it up with music, you wouldn’t go to your friends and transfer file by file. It would take a lot of time. Instead, you just go to someone who can fill up entire gigabytes from their computer. There’s no real MP3 market. People just understand that wherever there’s a cellphone being sold, there are MP3s. All these places are interlinked. It revolved around cellphones vendors having computers and being able to unlock phones. They also started to collect music, so every time somebody would bring a phone in, they’d copy all the data off the memory card before they had to reformat it. So they started this massive collection, and then they understood that “well, I can also sell these songs.” You can just go into a shop, ask for hip-hop or whatever and buy it; they sell them as bulk of MP3s. A lot of cellphone vendors started hooking up speakers to their computers and just playing music constantly, so everyone knows that that’s where you go to buy music.






Sahel Sounds

The soundcloud of Sahel Sounds



Modern Music from Mali
@ Afropop Worldwide

Africa High-Tech
@ Willamette Week

Mali Music Culture Defined By The Cellphone
@ Here & Now

Christopher Kirkley, un chasseur de mp3 au Sahara
@ Atelier des Médias

Sahel Sounds and Guerrilla Ethnomusicology
@ Ethnomusicology Review

Desert discs: how mobile phones are at the root of Saharan music
@ The Guardian



Interview de Christopher Kirkley – Sahel Digital
l’Oeil de links

Rain the Colour Blue With a Little Red In It
Movie trailer

thepiratebook.net - 2015


Brazil, 80s & 90s

by Pedro Mizukami, researcher,

co-coordinator of the Brazilian components of

the “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies” project





Both video clubs/stores and video game consoles were affected by Brazilian industrial policy during the 1980s and the import substitution policies that were adopted at the time. Several items were included in the package, but mostly it was about closing the Brazilian market and making it very hard for imports to reach the Brazilian territory in order to stimulate local industries. This was the main trend in Brazilian industrial policy during that time. As a result, contraband, piracy, and unlicensed hardware, in the case of video game consoles, were commonplace.





Video became a big thing in Brazil during the 80s. I remember how hard it was to purchase a VCR video player in Brazil when I was growing up. It was very expensive. So it took a lot of time for families to save enough money to purchase a videocassette player in Brazil, and, for the most part, only families that were well off could afford it.





The first Brazilian videocassette player was produced in 1982, so this year can be used in a timeline as the beginning of Brazilian video, though VCRs were imported into Brazil before that. Since prices for VCRs produced in Brazil were very high, most families would purchase cheaper imported machines, mostly from Paraguay. The price difference was so great that people would go to Paraguay, buy videocassette players, and resell them into the Brazilian market. The market started to be populated by these machines, but there was actually no home video market to supply VHS tapes containing movies. It meant that even if you had access to a videocassette player, there was still the issue of how to find the content to play in it. So people began to organize themselves into video clubs. Each video club would of course operate by different rules, but typically you would pay a monthly fee for being a member, and sometimes you would be required to contribute a few new titles for the archives. Mostly these were VHS tapes that were purchased abroad, even though importing them was actually illegal. The import substitution policies I mentioned before required them to be produced in Brazil. A member of a video club would have access to the entire archive of the video club, so these became hubs for the import and distribution of movies during the early years of the Brazilian video market. As you can imagine, this involved piracy because it was necessary to acquire, duplicate, and subtitle the tape, so these clubs can be thought of as a sort of early fan subcommunities.





The video clubs progressively transitioned into the video rental market. Rental stores began to appear where you could actually rent movies, so you would not have to contribute new movies and so on. You could just go there and pay a fee for each of the movies that you rented. According to an estimate from 1987 (this is an industry estimate, so we can question its accuracy), about 80% of the archives in Brazilian video stores around 1987 were pirated. There was actually no official market that could supply the home video market with the number of titles that it needed.





Getting a video tape legally distributed in Brazil involved a series of bureaucratic steps. Let’s suppose that you were a firm licensed to distribute a movie from Warner Bros. in Brazil. You would have to get authorization from Concine (Concine was the government body that supervised the entire film industry in Brazil), you would have to register with them, you would have to prove that you have a license to distribute the video and you would have to acquire a stamp, a small sticker that would be put on the videotape. The stamp was usually what people used to distinguish between pirated video and legitimate, official video. It was printed by the government and attached to the tapes. The legal tapes would also, of course, have professionally produced covers and packaging, which was certainly not the case with pirated videotapes.



If you look at the Brazilian pirate market now, there are varying degrees of how professionally produced the covers are, but at that time a sticker was typed on a typewriter with the title of the movie, maybe with a brief synopsis, and the cover would probably include the name of the video club or the video rental store. In terms of aesthetics, it wasn’t very well produced. These were the main factors that were used to distinguish between a pirated videotape and an original, licensed one. There was no big conversation around copyright then; it was mainly a question of whether the government authorized distribution of the video on Brazilian territory or whether there was a sticker on the tape. If there was no sticker, it meant that this was either a pirated tape or an “alternative” tape. “Alternative” was a euphemism that was used in order to market these tapes; there wasn’t really a stigma attached to the word “piracy,” but it did, of course, link people to the idea of illegality.





In 1987 distributors, representatives of big studios, and film producers started to organize themselves in Brazil. They began to pressure the government and managed to crack down on the pirate video market. From 1987 to 1989 there were several crackdowns on numerous video stores and video clubs. These were very effective. I remember when growing up that one week you would have access to the entire range of film production in the world, and after the crackdown you would be restricted to legally distributed tapes, which of course, only represented the major blockbusters. And even so, the market was under-served, both due to the bureaucratic hindrances involved with getting the sticker from the government, and the approach of the distributers themselves, who preferred to serve the market with the minimum common denominator in terms of content. So you can imagine what it was like for a 10-year-old boy in the countryside near São Paulo, going to the video store in order to rent a movie, and going from a whole universe of productions to a very small number of major American blockbusters or major European productions. From one day to the next, it was as if 80% of the catalogue was down, and with it a lot of content that you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere, not in theatres, and not on TV. It was a major drought in terms of access to content in Brazil. The crackdown on Brazilian video stores could be likened to the burning the Library of Alexandria or a situation where 80% of the content on peer-to-peer file sharing websites disappeared after a successful enforcement attack from the major motion picture organizations. It took from 1990 to the late 90s for the market to actually meet the demand for less mainstream titles.


thepiratebook.net - 2015