The New Mexico Attorney General's Office has a new partner in fighting crime: the Recording Industry Association of America.
For the first time, the two entities teamed up to investigate illegally copied CDs. The duo started working together after the Attorney General’s Office received a complaint about Krazy Kat Music. The RIAA offered its assistance.
The Attorney General's Office confiscated about 7,400 CDs that agents suspect were pirated. Every seven duplicated CDs sold count as a fourth-degree felony, which carries a standard sentence of 18 months in prison.
Agents from the Attorney General's Office raided the store on the morning of Tuesday, July 22. Investigators also seized CD burning equipment and four computers. “This was the largest operation we know of in New Mexico," says Phil Sisneros, AG spokesperson. "There was a substantial amount of duplication going on."
Monica Padilla, who works at Mecca Records CDs and Books, says she's troubled by the relationship between the Attorney General's Office and the RIAA. She says the RIAA might be getting preferential treatment from the attorney general, because it represents the multibillion-dollar music industry. "There's conflicts regarding distribution of wealth and certain areas getting more attention because of wealth," Padilla says. "The marriage of government and corporations has been around since this country started, so it's not surprising."
The more eyes and ears we have out in the field, the better. All law-enforcement agencies have constraints because of manpower and funding, so if we can get help from private industry, we welcome that.
Phil Sisneros, AG spokesperson
Padilla adds that the attorney general’s wasting time and money raiding stores that sell burned CDs. "There are probably other things that should be higher priorities," she says.
Sisneros says the Attorney General's Office accepts help from anyone interested in stopping crimes. "The more eyes and ears we have out in the field, the better," he says. "All law-enforcement agencies have constraints because of manpower and funding, so if we can get help from private industry, we welcome that."
Krazy Kat co-owner Ed Stange declined to comment. His lawyer, David Freedman, says it's too early to assume anything about the case. "There's no doubt that there are serious questions as to whether or not my client knowingly disseminated any material contrary to law," Freedman says. "The fact that they carted off a bunch of CDs doesn't, in and of itself, mean anything. It's not what it appears to be."
Freedman declined to go over specifics of the case, because he hasn't seen any of the seized material. "We haven't had a chance to look at what was taken and see if there's any validity to what the state is claiming."
Attorney General Gary King will decide whether to file charges against Krazy Kat. The RIAA has been investigating Krazy Kat since 2001, according to Sisneros. After a complaint from a competing store, the attorney general began investigating Krazy Kat about six months ago, he says.
Brad Buckles, the RIAA's executive vice president for anti-piracy, declined to comment on the Krazy Kat investigation specifically. But, he says, his department has conducted thousands of investigations into retail stores, flea markets and other outlets across the country.
The marriage of government and corporations has been around since this country started, so it's not surprising.
Monica Padilla of Mecca Records CDs and Books
Buckles says after his investigators discover pirated CDs are being sold, the RIAA asks local law enforcement to take action. "It's then the police's job to do anything about it," Buckles says.
RIAA investigators don't have the power to make arrests or press criminal charges, but several of them accompanied attorney general agents during the raid on Krazy Kat. They wore T-shirts with "RIAA" written in large letters on the back. Sisneros says these investigators were brought along to help attorney general agents identify CD copying equipment and other items.
Buckles says the RIAA estimates the bootlegging industry in America takes in about $350 million a year. He says it's difficult to estimate how much money the music industry loses as a result, but it's greater than $350 million, because bootlegged CDs are typically sold for less than retail.
Buckles says he knows the RIAA can’t stop everyone from selling burned CDs, but he still thinks raids and investigations help curb the problem. “I compare it to speeding in that you know you can’t catch all the people that do it,” Buckles says. “But just think if we didn’t enforce speeding laws. Everyone would do it, and we’d have chaos on the roads.”
Sisneros says the Attorney General's Office is concerned with pirating because it hurts New Mexico. Instead of paying $15 for a CD, customers are paying only $4 or $5. "We're talking about a lot of money that should, by all rights, be going into our economy," he says. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it's going to have a negative effect."
Colleen Corrie, who owns Charley's 33s and CDs, says the city can ill afford to lose another local music outlet. "I would hate to see another store close," Corrie says. "There are fewer and fewer of them around in Albuquerque."
Corrie also says places that sell illegally copied CDs give other record stores a bad name. "I hope it doesn't have a negative effect on all of us," she says. "It might hurt our reputation."