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Thriving Jordanian bootleggers "a threat"

Jordanian copyright pirates behave not unlike Chicago gangsters during prohibition.

AMMAN — Mamoun Talhouni may have the hardest job in Jordan. In a place where major stores sell almost exclusively pirated DVDs, CDs, and software in full view of the police, as director general of the National Library he has been tasked with stopping copyright infringement.

Unlike the U.S. where most pirated material is downloaded in private, or even in other developing countries where DVD bootleggers live in fear of the police, in Jordan it’s difficult to tell that anyone has a problem with it. Pirate DVD shops are mixed in among other storefronts along major roadways and everyone from locals to embassy workers can be seen buying movies for 1 Jordanian Dinar ($1.41) a piece.

Although Jordan has been working to combat piracy for nearly a decade, Talhouni is up against bootleggers seemingly immune to fines and other penalties, lenient government agencies, and legions of consumers who feel entitled to cheap pirated goods.

“It’s a nightmare for me,” Talhouni said. But the challenge has yet to test his resolve. “The weak get frustrated and I’m not a weak person ... As long as you are in this post, then you should do your job and your job is enforcing the copyright law regardless of the results.”

Jordan began cracking down on pirated goods shortly before joining the World Trade Organization in 2000. In that year, only six copyright cases were referred to the courts. Now, an average of 50 cases make it to the courts each month. Those found guilty can face up to 3 years in prison, fines between 1,000 dinar (about $1,400) to 6,000 dinar, and potentially the closure of their shop.

While that might seem enough to deter copyright pirates, in Jordan they behave not unlike Chicago gangsters in the thick of prohibition who were virtually immune to enforcement. To date, though some bootleggers have gone to jail, the court has not ordered a single shop to close. Many pay a fine and are back in business within a few days or sometimes a few weeks. In at least one instance, Talhouni has seen a shop owner completely restock within two hours of authorities confiscating all his bootlegged merchandise.

For Talhouni, it’s a classic case of a bureaucrat stymied in the system. Members of his eight-man team can send bootleggers to court, but after that they can only act as witnesses. Although he’s requested that at least 20 stores shut their doors for good, no one has agreed to implement his request.