Biting Back Against Pirated DVDs

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The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has a new weapon, make that two new weapons, in its war against DVD piracy. The only downside is they have to be walked twice a day.

Lucky and Flo, two black Labrador retrievers, hold the distinction of being the world's first dogs trained to detect pirated DVDs. This week in a demonstration at MPAA headquarters in Washington, D.C, the two-year-old Labs proved their olfactory talents to a roomful of customs officials, FBI agents, reporters and U.S. Department of Commerce piracy czar Chris Israel by successfully sniffing out DVDs hidden in baggage and containers set up for a test run.

If all goes as planned, MPAA officials are hoping Lucky and Flo will be the first of a pack of DVD-detecting dogs to be trained and stationed at airports, shipping yards and other points where pirated DVDs are smuggled into the country. Success in stopping illegal DVDs before they hit the streets would be a major blow to piracy, which is the most serious problem facing the movie industry today, accounting for $18.2 billion in lost revenues in 2005, according to the MPAA.

"Piracy affects many economies and results not only in lost revenues but lost jobs," says Los Angeles MPAA spokeswoman Kori Bernards. That said, it's a tough crime to stop. Typically, pirates use handheld camcorders to tape movies in theaters, upload them on the Internet and send them to contacts in a foreign country, where they are replicated and distributed to illegal dealers all over the world.

While Lucky and Flo can't detect pirated DVDs versus legal ones, they are trained to recognize polycarbonate and other chemicals that exist in optical discs. Pirates use legitimate DVDs are registered for shipment, so the dogs would be able to sniff out DVDs that are hidden in unregistered containers, which would mean they're probably being smuggled for illegal sale or use.

MPAA piracy director John Malcolm came up with the idea to train dogs after witnessing the success of canines in detecting illegal drugs. Lucky and Flo, who are officially owned by the MPAA, were trained for eight months in Ireland by Neil Powell, who has extensive experience working with canines on illegal substances. Powell used a classic reward system and game-playing which, coupled with the Labs' innate instinct for hunting, proved successful.

Having bow-wowed officials in Washington, Lucky and Flo are now headed for the K-9 Pirate Smackdown World Tour, a press tour of sorts, so they can demonstrate their piracy-sniffing skills to audiences in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. After that it's back to northern Ireland, hopefully for some treats.