CD Piracy Spurs Violent Crime Spree

Music Industry, CD Roms, Money
Recent gunfire in offices at the center of the nation's pirate compact disc and DVD trade indicates that soaring profits are drawing violent criminals to the illegal, but once-placid business, authorities say.

An armed robber shot Guinean immigrant Ablia Diallo to death Tuesday in a midtown Manhattan office stuffed with counterfeit CDs and DVDs, including recent releases "8 Mile" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," police said.

In July, gunmen robbing a bootleg video business near the Empire State Building opened fire, wounding two West African immigrants working there.

Police have not linked the shootings, but investigators are looking at whether violence more typical of the drug trade is moving into what had been a low-risk illegal business.

"The two shootings in New York City over the last couple of months are not something that we normally see," said Frank Creighton, director of anti-piracy for the Recording Industry Association of America. "Typically it doesn't escalate to this level of violence."

Cheaper computer hardware and raw materials have decreased start-up costs and increased profits for New York City counterfeiters, who generate revenues the recording industry estimates at roughly $250,000 a day. The city produces about two-thirds of the nation's pirate CDs, Creighton said.

The pirate trade's profits began to soar about three years ago, as the price of blank CDs dropped from as much as $15 apiece to less than 10 cents a disc in bulk, Creighton said. CD and DVD manufacturers now can set up an operation capable of churning out hundreds of discs daily for $2,500, a tenth of the cost three years ago, he said.

The pirate discs are sold to street vendors for a dollar or two, then are resold for twice that price, experts said. In stores, music CDs sell for about $15 each; DVDs of recent Hollywood hits sell for about $20.

A swath of midtown Manhattan commercial buildings now host anonymous offices that distribute counterfeit discs from mills hidden throughout the five boroughs.

Counterfeiters are rarely armed and typically receive probation or short sentences upon conviction, said Richard Baker, who has prosecuted hundreds of them as chief of the Bronx district attorney's economic crime bureau.

"We've never had any incidents of violence in doing these cases, but things do change," Baker said. "Perhaps what's going on in Manhattan is a precursor to what may happen throughout the rest of the city."

A 31-year-old South Carolina man and a 29-year-old Virginia Beach, Va., man are awaiting trial on robbery, assault and weapons charges in the July shooting. No arrest has been made so far in this week's shooting of Diallo.

Diallo moved to New York about four years ago and sent money from his work in the pirate CD and DVD business to his wife and two children in Guinea, family friends said Wednesday.

By Michael Weissenstein