Piracy: how to tell fake from real

By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

August 25, 2014

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – Money – that was this man’s only motivation for selling pirated DVDs. Each DVD sold for five dollars but only cost 40 cents to copy. The man, who refused to be identified, said, “I cannot say it’s the best job. But it’s a way to make easy money.”

He was earning at least $6,000 a month – selling copyrighted materials. It got so lucrative that gangs started to notice and demanded that he pay them a percentage for selling in their streets. He refused. And he got stabbed. He shared, “I was scared and traumatized.”

Authorities also caught up to him, and after being arrested and released a few times, he agreed to become a mole for investigators – authorities whose primary goal is to end this multi-billion dollar crime-ridden industry.

Santee Alley in Los Angeles is an area where pirated goods are sold in massive quantities. And those who sell them could be anyone. Hector Villegas, an investigator for Investigative Consultants claimed, “It could be a person who already has money but just wants to make more money. It could be a new immigrant who just wants to make a buck or two. It varies and I’ve seen every kind of person do this kind of stuff.”

At the Los Angeles headquarters of Investigative Consultants, law enforcement agencies are trained not only to work with moles in identifying pirates, but to conduct raids and seize copyrighted materials.

ABS-CBN, the company that produces Balitang America, partnered with Investigative Consultants in urging lawmakers to seize over 4,500 counterfeit DVDs worth $90,000 dollars from FLB Video Pinoy last May, a Filipino-owned company in Long Beach, California. Its owner, Fernando Bernabe and his wife Anita, were arrested and have subsequently been charged with felony counts. Each face three years in prison.

Kris Buckner, director of Investigative Consultants said, ““Well, it’s a felony crime. People can be arrested. They can be sentenced up to three years in state prison for the sale of counterfeit and pirated movies and music, hard goods. So there are good penalties on the books. Also, people would have to pay a fine and potentially – restitution.”

Buckner added that pirated materials seem to be everywhere now. Not only are they sold in the streets by vendors. But piracy can also be committed in the privacy of your own home and all that’s needed is a computer and access to the Internet. He said many may not realize that when they download copyrighted music, movies, games or books without permission from the owner and seller and don’t pay it – that they’re already breaking the law.

Investigators said besides refraining from downloading copyrighted materials online, consumers should also be wary about buying pirated DVDs on the streets. While they may be cheaper, investigators said they are actually low quality.

Bucker said people can tell what’s fake and what’s real – not only by price or by where it’s sold – but by its appearance. Original DVDs would usually come in a shell case, with clean artwork and with grammatically-correct description. Lower quality counterfeits are usually seen in plain white envelopes with sloppy printing and bad wordings. Buckner added that all authentic disks are replicated through a multimillion dollar machine and are not burned onto a recordable disk. A quick indicator, Buckner said, is that if the bottom of the disk has a purple hue – it is a burned disk. Therefore, it’s a pirated copy.

Authorities said piracy, which funds gang activity, can be contained if consumers stop buying and patronizing pirated products.

Todd Rogers, Los Angeles County assistant sheriff concluded, “We want to partner with you. We want to partner with every one of them who are willing to partner with us – to identify what we could do to better make their neighborhood’s quality of life better, to identify the relatively small number of bad guys that we need to take out so the rest of the folks can enjoy their neighborhood and their families.”

For part one of this special report, click here.

You may contact Henni Espinosa at henni_espinosa@abs-cbn.com or follow her on Twitter @henniespinosa for more information.

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