Underbelly: articles

So, what episode are you up to?

SEEN Underbelly yet? If not, you may soon find yourself out of the loop at your next social outing.

A growing number of Melburnians are tuning into the drama despite a Supreme Court order banning its broadcast in Victoria because it could prejudice an underworld murder trial.

Former federal policeman Greg Hooper said episodes from the Channel Nine series were widely available at flea markets and elsewhere. "There's a couple of blokes, I understand, running around selling it out of cars and just walking into shops and selling it," said Mr Hooper, a former investigator for anti-piracy organisation, the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft.

Sellers are operating in Laverton, Werribee, the northern suburbs and city areas, including at building sites, where they can make a quick sale "and get out of the place".

He said some copies circulating were "off the cutting room floor", with no ad breaks. Some still had the counter used in the production process.

Nine said it had investigated the source of any leak and it did not believe any of its staff were responsible. "Where appropriate we are pursuing people who infringe our copyright," a spokeswoman said.

Neil Gane, director of operations at the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, said it was watching organisations in Victoria selling episodes one to nine. A joint raid with Federal Police in North Sunshine on Tuesday netted "dozens and dozens" of copies.

The organisation is also investigating an internet site that allows episodes to be downloaded easily, and illegally. Offenders risk a maximum copyright infringement fine of $65,000, or five years jail in addition to contempt of court action.

But many of the copies have simply been made by friends for friends. Illicit viewers range from a QC to a savvy 24-year-old who used digital television to pick up the interstate screening and copy it.

Watching a potential ratings bonanza slipping through its fingers, the piracy is infuriating Nine, which is appealing against the decision to ban the series being shown in Victoria. A spokeswoman said Underbelly was the highest rating show in its 8.30pm timeslot in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

The latest ratings results show that Underbelly was the week's number one program in Sydney (watched by 331,000), Brisbane (180,000) and Adelaide (92,000).

Among the viewers has been Victoria's Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon, who saw an episode, legally, when she was in Sydney.

"The best thing I can say is in the end the police win," she said.

By Andra Jackson
March 13, 2008
The Age