Of course, there are paramount glitches in the tempting curbside offer.
The videos are patently illegal and frequently of poor quality. Many are taped directly off theater screens by people using camcorders and done so haphazardly that they pick up the background noise of theater patrons.
According to the Motion Picture Association of America, piracy costs the U.S. motion picture industry an estimated $250 million a year in this country and $2 billion worldwide.
It hurts the business of legitimate video dealers, too.
But none of this stops vendors from selling pirated videos in many commercial districts around the Philadelphia area.
On the northwest corner of 52d and Chestnut Streets, a middle-aged woman wearing a black waistpack and blue scarf wrapped around her head sat in front of the Jeans World store. She was shaded by denim jumpers hanging from the awning, and she tended a table that was covered with more than 100 videos. There was also a small TV and videocassette recorder on the side for viewing the tapes.
"Sometimes we get 'em before the movie opens in Philadelphia. . . . It takes us a while, but we usually get them," said the merchant, who like all others interviewed for this article would not be identified.
The woman on 52d Street said she works every day - except Sunday - from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., even during the winter. Since she began selling videos more than a year ago, she has built a regular clientele of more than 50 customers who purchase six or seven videos from her twice a week. She said she can even fill requests sometimes.
"When they watch a movie, I tell them to come back and tell me if they like it," she said, smiling. As she stood by her display, she greeted by first name numerous passersby. Many, she said, are her regular customers.
Those who deal in pirate videos are not only secretive about their identities, but even more secretive about their supply source: "Someone brings them up for me," said the woman on 52d Street.
On the southwest corner of 52d and Chestnut, a man wearing a guitar-print shirt and black shorts stood beside a table covered with videos. He also had a TV/VCR.
He said that he sells about $50 worth of the $10 videos each day.
"You make your living," he said. His source? He said he didn't know and shrugged.
He showed The Lion King. A girl wearing a neon green shorts outfit and swinging her purse stopped and watched the animated film until her mother beckoned her to come along.
The camcorder-taped videos are no bargain to watch. The Lion King pirate tape featured distorted sound and a fuzzy picture.
While pirating The Client, the camcorder operator apparently sat too close to the screen and taped at a severe angle, missing part of the picture and getting a distorted copy.
And, if you can stand that, you'd still have to get over the rustling from the theater audience.
Of course, there's the unexpected. A hand moved in front of the camera lens on the pirate copy of Speed, and because the sides of the movie were cut off, the title of the Keanu Reeves hit flick read peed.
Even the cover photographs shot for the pirated video cassettes are poor copies. The cassettes and cases bear no trademark, brand or copyright information.
Video pirates also copy legitimate videos and stolen prints, said Tom Schell, the anti-piracy spokesman for the motion picture association.
The MPAA's anti-piracy operation has more than 100 field representatives in the United States, most of whom are retired law enforcement officials, investigating around 2,500 cases. MPAA investigations have helped law enforcement officers seize more than one million illegal videocassettes and 32,000 film prints.
Each year the MPAA hotline, 800-NO-COPYS, receives thousands of calls, mostly from legitimate dealers or from customers who unknowingly rent illegal copies. Rewards of up to $15,000 are offered to people who provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of pirates.
"These unauthorized duplication facilities exist all over the country. . . . We find them with 200 machines, 300 machines, VCRs that are hooked up, making copies of movies," Schell said.
Video pirating is against federal and state law, a felony in most states. It is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania under the state's true name and address statute, which requires that videos be identified by the producer's name and address.
After New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles vie for second in the number of video pirate street vendors, said Phil Parker, the mid-Atlantic regional representative for the MPAA operation.
"It's a dubious distinction of being that high-ranked," said Parker, who is based in Norfolk, Va., and previously worked in counterintelligence for the FBI.
About 30 cases are under investigation in Philadelphia, Parker said.
A field representative from the region said that the MPAA has received complaints about the area around 52d Street at Chestnut and Walnut Streets, and about operations on Germantown Avenue, Chelten Avenue and on Girard Avenue outside the Philadelphia Zoo.
"It's a good market. It's the largest city (in the mid-Atlantic region)," Parker said. "The law enforcement community has other cases which are much more demanding in the sense of priority than video piracy."
Last month, with Parker's aid, the Pennsylvania State Police seized 50 VCRs, 2,000 videos and thousands of video labels from a house that police said was used only for videotaping. The pirates were copying The Lion King, The Flintstones and Speed, as well as released videos, at the time of the raid.
"That's about the usual number," Parker said. "Usually, these people who run the factories, or labs, as we call them, get them out on the streets as soon as they make them. . . . If you have 50 VCRs running and you have a two- hour movie, (that produces) 600 a day out of one lab.
"As soon as the movie is shown in the theater, those people with the camcorders are in there," Parker said.
The Philadelphia Police Department has had little success since it began its first video piracy investigation a year ago, said Detective Michael Mullen, one of two major fraud investigators in the economic crimes unit.
"Any kind of violent crime would be the Police Department's first priority. If there's a bank robbery . . . we handle that first . . . then we get back to the fraud work," he said.
Mullen said Philadelphia police have not yet conducted any raids on video pirates. The police have arrested two people under the copying statute. Both were acquitted, Mullen said. He said police are now investigating a video store chain, on the suspicion that the company might be copying tapes. He would not disclose the store name.
Many of the motion picture companies whose films have been pirated have not yet set dates for their video releases.
"The Lion King is going so well theatrically. . . . There's no way (the release) will happen this year," said Steve Feldstein, a spokesman for Buena Vista Home Video.
But the illegal operators persist. About two weeks ago, a vendor set up a table in front of a West Philadelphia video store, said the manager, who did not want to be identified.
A few blocks away from the video store, the sidewalks were buzzing as usual at the southwest corner of 52d and Chestnut Streets. A regular customer approached the display of pirated videos. The seller greeted him, smiled and patted him on the shoulder. After looking at the selection of videos, the customer asked, "When are you getting Schwarzenegger?"