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Movie pirates making and selling illegal copies of films have been warned they will end up in court if they are caught after a man was sentenced to 300 hours of community service yesterday.

Tony Eaton of the New Zealand Federation Against Copyright Theft said movie piracy was costing the industry tens of millions a year. In 2005 piracy cost $70 million.

He said after yesterday's court case that people should not get the wrong idea. If they were found selling pirated movies they would be prosecuted.

"One hundred per cent. There is no doubt whatsoever," he said after a court case in Auckland yesterday when a man was sentenced to 300 hours of community service on three charges of stealing the hit movie, Sione's Wedding, and breach of copyright.

Frederick Higgins, 39, was found guilty in the Auckland District Court last month and yesterday he received the maximum community sentence he could get when he appeared before Judge Josephine Bouchier.

Mr Eaton said Higgins probably did not make money from stealing the movie when he worked at the post-production house, Digital Post, but the criminal convictions came at a huge personal cost.

He had lost his job after 11 years, was unemployed and now had criminal convictions against his name.

Higgins told the defended hearing last month he had made a copy of the movie in October 2005, but said it was for his own use and he destroyed it at work within two days.

However, Judge Bouchier said the pirated DVDs of the film being distributed in New Zealand and on the internet could only have come from Higgins.

Mr Eaton said the sentence was fair. He said the message was getting through and people were beginning to understand what it was costing the industry and what it could cost them if they were caught.

"Movie piracy is a crime," he said, adding that the federation's role was education as much as enforcement and that meant getting the message out that there would be no backing off a prosecution. "We have a film industry of $2.6 billion and we need to protect it," he said.

"People are out there making monetary gain from it. They know it is a crime."