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RIAA targets indie musicians and rappers

by Lindsay Nash Thursday, Oct. 06, 2005 at 5:24 PM
info@econoculture.com

Recently, the RIAA has begun targeting underground musicians, arguing that CD-R sales constitute pirated material. The story takes a look at the RIAA's undercover tactics, provides court documents and context to this issue.

At about 1:30 p.m. on June 8, a squad of NYPD officials, private investigators and attorneys busted into Kims Video and Music, located on St. Marks Place in the East Villageintent on locking up employees whom they believed were selling and manufacturing pirated CDs. Officers sporting bulletproof vests immediately began ushering startled customers out of the store. The remaining officials got down to the business of drilling the store employees. They lined them up and ordered them to identify the stores managers on duty that day. The cops wanted the managers in handcuffs.

Police ushered the managers out of the store, placed them in separate police cruisers and drove to Manhattan Central Booking. There the managers were put in holding cells, where they would spend the next 36 hours.

Chuck Bettis, a Kims manager, was one of those arrested. He described the scene in a widely disseminated e-mail sent out upon his June 10 release: So we got put into a pen w/ a bunch of other dudes. The cells were packed constantly, filled w/ 30 or so people at a time, having 10 bullpens down there, body heat made things harder in the dank cells.

Police had in mind to charge Bettis and the other employees with felony trademark fraud, a criminal offense that could carry jail time. Bettis says that police never told him on what charge he was being held. I only found out what I was initially charged with during my arraignment, Bettis explains, where I saw on paper what I [was] charged for.

The bust on the chic flagship store was a joint operation by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Counterfeit Division of the NYPDs 6th Precinct aimed at stamping out music piracy and trademark violations. After arresting the store managers, investigators searched the store. Court records indicate they confiscated an alleged pirated stash amounting to 56 DVDs, 471 CDs (containing recordings of music by Mariah Carey, Bizarre, Faith Evans, Puff Daddy, R. Kelly, 50 Cent, and other popular recording artists) and nine computers. RIAA reports allege the search turned up nine CD-R burners, but, as Bettis points out, virtually all computers these days come with built-in CD-R copiers. He adds, As far as I knew, there was never any CD replication going on at Kims.

Bettis remembers that as he was about to leave on his lunch break, he heard a cop shout: The store is closed! Everybody out! Now!

The yelling was coming from the stores first floor. The store is comprised of two, long floors. The first sells CDs, books, and magazines. The second floor sells albums, DVDs, and more reading material. The only spot that isnt usually congested with people hunting down the latest Morr or Fonal release is the stores wide slope of an entrance. Bettis usual position is behind the counter on the second floor.

I didnt know what was going on, but I just assumed that something must have happened on the first floor, Bettis explains.

According to Bettis, about 20 law enforcement officials had swooped into the store and that the cops were dressed like SWAT guys who were saying something about a warrant from the Supreme Court that allowed them to search the premises. When describing the scene, Bettis might as well be discussing an obscure film noir filed in his stores cult section:

It was this crazy, eerie feeling. I mean, cops come in Kims all the time, but not like that. At the time, it was really scary. It felt like a full-on raid.

All that Kims employees could do was watch as investigators combed the aisles. After identifying the managers, the cops shouted one final directive: Cuff em! Then they herded the managers into police cars. Investigators offered no explanation to the managers. I thought they were just getting us out of the way while they looked around, Bettis says. But then they drove away, and I was like, Uh-oh

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