It's Been a Busy Year for Pirates and The Man

Last week, The Recording Industry Association of America released its year-end anti-piracy statistics, which it says reveal an increase in the number of counterfeit and pirate CDs and CD-recordables confiscated in 1998. "We've had tremendous success this year with our anti-piracy initiatives," said Frank Creighton, senior vice president and director of anti-piracy. "Between the many CD plants around the country adopting better business practices to the scores of universities signing up for our copyright education program---we're making strides on all fronts."

The RIAA's Internet Enforcement team says that it sent thousands of "educational" or warning letters to music sites---offering hundreds of thousands of sound recordings---that, the RIAA claims, were violating artist and record-company rights. This represents an increase of more than 400% over the previous year's efforts. While the RIAA claims that the most common way to address unauthorized music files on the Internet is through the cease-and-desist program, it says that important legal precedents were also set for online enforcement. In May 1998, the association sued two music sites that were illegally distributing full-length songs for download. This time, in addition to permanent injunctions, the RIAA says it received monetary damages from the defendants, who were also required to perform community service.

As a result of the recently implemented CD Plant Good Business Practices guidelines, the RIAA says that it received numerous tips from CD replicators regarding suspect orders. The organization claims that this information prevented close to 1.5 million pirate CDs from being manufactured or distributed in the US in 1998. Also, evidence collected over the years, primarily through criminal investigations, culminated in more than $20 million in settlements against domestic CD replicators and their customers on behalf of RIAA member record companies. This represents an approximately 250% increase over 1997, and the largest year-end tally in RIAA history. Then, in September, the RIAA helped to pass the California Optical Disc Identifier legislation, intended to reduce piracy by requiring optical disc manufacturers to identify product with the manufacturer's name and state. Optical discs include CDs, CD-Rs, DVDs, and other materials used as masters to make copies.

The RIAA reports that it began publishing statistics on counterfeit, pirate, and bootleg CD-R seizures in 1997. As a result, the number of CD-Rs confiscated has skyrocketed from 442 in 1997 to 103,971 in 1998. According to Creighton, the proliferation of unauthorized CD-Rs in the pirate marketplace is fueled by inexpensive CD-R hardware and blank discs. Unauthorized CD-Rs are turning up on street corners, in flea markets and retail locations, and even for sale via the Net. "However, we're applying the successful investigative tactics and enforcement efforts used to combat cassette piracy in the '80s and early '90s to that of CD-Rs," said Creighton. Interestingly, illegal cassette seizures were down in 1998.

Also noted in the report is that the bulk of unauthorized CD-Rs was confiscated at the end of the year in southern California by the Anaheim Police Department, with assistance from the RIAA. The APD raided three locations, one of which was a factory that the RIAA claims was distributing unauthorized CD-Rs to just about every state in the country. The RIAA's Operations Copycat I and II raided a total of 20 locations, and arrested more than 50 individuals, as a result of two joint investigations by the RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America. The RIAA points out that this investigation closed down the largest CD-reproduction lab uncovered to date, capable of producing music CD-Rs that it claims would have cost the recording industry more than $10 million a year in displaced sales. Large quantities of blank CD-Rs, insert cards, computer equipment, and printers were confiscated in the raids.