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Pirates beware: Music industry cracks down

/ Source: The Associated Press

The music industry, which has famously sued Internet users for downloading songs illegally, is turning its sights on pirates in 12 cities who copy CDs and DVDs for sale at street corners, flea markets, family run shops and even mainstream record stores.

Executives identified the cities as Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; New York; Philadelphia; Providence, R.I.; San Diego and San Francisco. These were selected based on market surveys, earlier raids and industry reviews of sales data suggesting lost sales during the past five years.

“We tried to narrow down the areas where we’re going to focus, where we find the most piracy,” said Brad Buckles, executive vice president for anti-piracy at the Washington-based Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group for the largest labels.

The trade group estimates the industry lost $1 billion in CD sales last year, including more than $300 million in losses blamed on underground sales of illegally copied discs. Police seized more than 5 million illegal CDs and arrested 3,300 people last year, it said.

Urban and Latin music is overwhelmingly popular among pirates who copy discs, representing about 95 percent of all counterfeit CDs and DVDs seized in raids, according to Buckles, who is a former head of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Almost 40 percent of discs seized last year were Latin CDs — with artists such as Jessie Morales and Los Originales de San Juan — even though the genre accounts for only 6 percent of the overall music market. Those illegal CDs are especially popular in Texas, California and Florida, the RIAA said.

Illegal Latin CDs also are commonly produced using high-quality commercial press equipment, rather than the inexpensive computer drives frequently used to illegally copy urban-music CDs, the trade group said. That can make it difficult for consumers — and even retailers — to identify counterfeit CDs, which are sometimes sold at full price.

“Unless you really know the product, you would not be able to tell,” Buckles said.

Other counterfeit CDs sometimes sell for as little as $3 each with poor-quality labels or include compilations that aren’t available commercially. “You’ve got people who are out to get music cheap,” Buckles said.

Part of the industry’s new campaign will describe the consequences of buying inexpensive, illegal CDs rather than paying full price for legal copies. The trade group said lost sales affect the industry’s ability to invest in new artists, and counterfeit discs often suffer from inferior quality.

“People can rationalize not paying for something, but the fact of the matter is they’re stealing,” Buckles said. “This (music) doesn’t get created for free. The consumers are really getting cheated.”

Angela Agrusa, a Los Angeles copyright lawyer who does not work for the labels, likened the industry’s latest campaign to efforts by designers and large clothing companies to discourage counterfeit sales in U.S. cities. Agrusa said those efforts have been successful, although thieves often move their operations elsewhere.

“The message is, ’If you move, we’ll find you,”’ Agrusa said.