DVD-Sniffing Dogs Enlisted in Malaysia Take a Bite Out of Movie Piracy

Malaysian authorities said Monday they hope two specially trained dogs will help police sniff out pirated DVDs and clean up the country's reputation as an abuser of intellectual property rights.

The two male Labrador retrievers from Northern Ireland, Paddy and Manny, are trained to smell chemicals used in DVD production. They will become the world's first permanent, national anti-piracy canine unit when they go into action next month, according to Malaysia's Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs.

Mohamad Roslan Mahayuddin, the ministry's enforcement director, told reporters Monday he hopes the dogs will help Malaysia to be taken off a U.S. watch list of countries that abuse intellectual property rights.

"We hope to fight piracy more effectively," he told reporters Monday.

Malaysia decided to establish a dedicated DVD-sniffing squad after a visit last year from a traveling canine sniffer team on loan from the U.S. Motion Picture Association. The dogs helped authorities unearth 1.6 million pirated DVDs and other optical discs and equipment worth $6 million (euro3.96 million) over six months, Mohamad Roslan said.

"We found that the dogs are very useful in our operations, especially in fighting piracy," he said.

Paddy and Manny were donated by the MPAA. They arrived Feb. 18 and are still adjusting to their new handlers and the tropical weather, Mohamad Roslan said, adding that the dogs would likely start their work in April.

Paddy, a 2-year-old black Labrador, is from an animal shelter that rescued him from abuse. Manny, a pale-yellow 1-year-old, comes from a dog breeder in northern Ireland.

The dogs are trained to sniff out a chemical used in disc production, but they cannot distinguish between real and the pirated DVDs. What they can do is point officers in their raids to hidden caches of discs.

Mohamad Roslan said authorities were taking steps to ensure their safety from angry smugglers, but declined to give any details.

Movie pirates reportedly place a bounty of $29,000 on the heads of the previous team of DVD-sniffing dogs, Lucky and Flo.

Mike Ellis, Asia-Pacific director of the Motion Picture Association of America, said the association spent less than $24,000 to buy and train Paddy and Manny.

"We are not seeing Malaysian products appear all over the world like we used to, so it's more now of a domestic problem. And the dogs will certainly help the domestic problem," Ellis said. "It raises the awareness of piracy in general."

According to the MPAA, its member studios in the U.S. lost $6.1 billion to worldwide piracy in 2005, of which the Asia-Pacific region accounted for $1.2 billion.