Pirate Market

In the past four months, I have learned a great deal about social norms. In Lima, it’s socially acceptable to arrive over an hour late to a social gathering. Generally speaking, it’s acceptable for men to turn their heads in a full 180º to check out a woman that has just walked by. The most surprising, however, is that it is socially acceptable to buy pretty much everything from a pirate market.

The two biggest pirate markets in Lima are Polvos Rosados and Polvos Azules (Pink Dust and Blue Dust, respectively). These two shopping malls are housed in a large warehouses complete with separate kiosks, snack machines, ATMs, actual shopping bags, business cards and police protection. Unlike the shady fake Louis Vuitton handbag purchases that take place in a dark corner of a New York subway station, pirate markets in Peru are not afraid to stand out. This is particularly obvious by the pink paint covering the exterior of Polvos Rosados.

When Alvaro first took me to Polvos Rosados several months ago, I entered the warehouse and my jaw dropped. I was in disbelief at the sheer number of products available for sale. Backpacks, electronics, movies, CDs, clothes, shoes, pet supplies, books- you want it, they have it. Alvaro goes to the same kiosk every time to purchase movies. Each movie kiosk is equipped with at least one decently sized flat screen TV on which customers can test their movies to check for quality. Our trusty pirated movie salesman can find a movie in a matter of seconds. They sell everything. From the most obscure foreign film to the movies that still haven’t arrived in Peruvian theaters, they have it.  This kiosk sells movies for S./5 each, but if you buy four then you get a fifth one for free. About two months ago, Alvaro purchased the second Wall Street movie to watch for a class project. We started to watch the movie, only to discover that it was in black and white and the entire menu screen was in Russian. But no worries, our pirated movie salesman is so honest that he offered to switch out the movie for us at no additional cost. And my copy of Enchanted that wouldn’t play in English? No worries, he switched that one too and even threw in an extra movie for free, to compensate for “our trouble”.

Buying pirated movies in Peru has become so socially acceptable that the it seems ludicrous to buy your movies anywhere else. Video rental stores are non-existent in Lima. Forget Netflix and Redbox, they would be too expensive. Why rent a movie for $1 when you can buy it for $1.60? The movie selection at electronic stores and supermarkets is abysmal and if you were to find the movie you wanted, it would cost you at least $30. In a society in which the middle class has nearly disappeared, buying a movie is simply too expensive for a large majority of Peruvians. Which is why the pirate markets make sense, the movies are cheap, in wide supply and the demand in these markets is greater than in any other. Such a phenomenon has carried over to movie theaters. An adult ticket to a new release on a Friday night costs barely $5, if theaters in Lima were to charge the outrageous prices found in US, no one would go to the theaters. Why pay close to $50 to take your entire family to the movies when you can buy the same movie for less than $2 at Polvos Rosados?

Alvaro interns at one of the largest law firms in Lima and works in the Intellectual Property department. He spends his days writing cases for Adidas, Hello Kitty, Donkey Kong, Juicy Couture, Spongebob Squarepants, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, supporting these companies when knock-offs of their brand make it to the shores of Peru. Last week he went to a raid where he spent the better part of the day counting pairs of fake Chanel earrings to include in the evidence reports. For forty hours a week, he is surrounded by law regarding trademarks and branding, but yet last Sunday we came home from Polvos Rosados with seven movies. When lawyers and police accept something as a norm, I guess everyone else has no choice but to follow.