Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Pirates With Camcorders"

These are the responses to my February 24th article, "Bootleg Movies Are Sold Illegally On New York Streets And Subways. Should Police Seize The Evidence?" Thanks to all, please continue to provide us with your feedback.


  1. One more point: we've been trying for years to get Chinese authorities to crack down on piracy; how can we hope to succeed if they find out we're not bothering to stop it here.

  2. I love receiving your editorials. However counterfeit merchandise, as you know, extend way beyond films. china has been pirating our music, films and software for decades. Walk down Canal Street. Designer bags are now sole as covertly as drugs used to be sold on the 42nd street of yesteryear. The pocket books which used to cost $40-$60. are now impeccably made in Italy and sold for $150-$240. The savvy consumer would rather pay that for the same merchandise than $2,000. to Dior. Is this a natural system of checks and balances which will always exist?

  3. Good piece...thank you for writing it.

    However it causes me to ask: Why not include the countless boxes (and sometimes even tables!) of bogus handbags which line the avenues surrounding NYC's most notable department stores? And what of all the unlicensed sports hats for sale on the streets of the City? Finally, every NYer has been propositioned at least a half a dozen times for a "Rolex" while coming and going.

    You rightly point out that administrative apathy has led to the tacit consent of these illegal activities.

    What, if any, is the solution?

  4. When the Court of Appeals says that the Mayor can "choose" which laws enacted over his veto by the City Council he deigns to enforce, it is perfectly understandable that the police should feel that they too can choose which laws they will enforce.

    As long as selective enforcement of laws continues, seizing the merchandise stock of street peddlers shows a lack of sympathy to the new immigrants who ply this trade. The pushcart peddlers of the early 20th century, as far as I know, were not licensed either. Some of them went on to become merchants after building their stammkapital.

    As it is, as you point out, a largely a victimless crime, I would rather have the police looking for terrorists than be diverted by arresting subway vendors.

  5. I don't buy bootleg copies of movies and I will not. But neither do I buy your overstatement of the problem. Most, the vast majority, of the folk who buy the street copies are unable to afford legit copies or to pay for tickets to attend cinema showings - this is not an easy concept for wealthy Manhattanites to get their minds around. Of course this doesn't make it right but I suspect you'll find that in a perverse way this serves the publicity machine for popular films by making them seem expensive forbidden fruit. Perhaps another way to look at this is that it is the market in action, that $5 is what the buyers think a viewing of these movies is worth? (My own opinion is that $5 is too much for most of them). Besides which, movie going has been declining for a number of years now for a variety of reasons. One is quality; movies are generally such rubbish, so exploitive and manipulative and fail to provide narrative with any spiritual dimension. Another is that young people, the vast proportion of movie consumers, are more interested in computer games which are far more difficult to bootleg.

  6. Anonymous3:24 PM

    Other venues popular with bootleg cd + dvd vendors are coffee shops, "restaurants" aka dancehalls/nightclubs, in neighborhoods such as Bushwick, Sunset Park, Williamsburgh, El Barrio, Washington Heights, Central Harlem, Crown Heights, Mott Haven among others. Enforcing the law in these stationary venues should be a piece of cake: issue summonses not only to the vendor, but the store owner, as well.

    And while they're at it, enforce the zoning laws re dancehalls/nightclubs in these residential neighborhoods, as well as the environmental noise this venues visit on their neighbors. The working people who live above and next to these entertainment venues are often too afraid, given their immigration status and affordable housing shortage, to complain, to landlords or police about their inability and their children's inability to get a good night's sleep.

    I'm also curious as to the source of capital fueling the bootleg cd/dvd "industry." Could the cash sale of these items be a way of laundering ill-gotten wealth? I wonder...

    Please do not use my name publicly in conjuction with these comments; they're given to you to explore further.

  7. I found your article about bootleg movies to be of interest -- and found your suggestions to be helpful. But. . . while I agree that giving the movies to charity isn't the answer and would be in favor of recycling them, as you suggest, don't you think it likely that some of the police who confiscate the films will either take them for their personal use who distribute them to fellow police officers? If so, is spending money on having police confiscate the films really worth it?

  8. The production and sale of pirated DVD's and other media is, and are violations of both federal and local laws, anywhere in these united states. In beautiful downtown flushing, with battling councilmen, tepid assembly people, and confused enforcement personnel, this activity not only flourishes, but is seemingly located

    Legions of young Asian women lay in wait to meet their customers, a stolen glance, a come hither approach, and the deal is made. Bad color photo copies adorn the outer envelopes containing these gems, jacket credits blare knowingly from their pages. Pictures and text being exact copies of the yet to be released DVD jackets themselves. How do they get this information, still months away from commercial release? There is an answer, and I knowingly know some of them. Answers that the public can't wait to hear. So without further adieu I bring the partial answers.

    1.- They are copies from pre-release copies sent to members of the people who subscribe to Variety, and vote on films for various award organizations. Such as the very organization attempting to police the actions of the counterfeiters.

    2.- Some of the copies of a band of numbers running on the bottom, these are editing marks, as these are made from work copies of the movie, which is finalized not on film but on electronic media.

    3.- Some are made from pre-release samples sent to media reviewers, working for newspapers and T. V. .

    4.- Some are copies from overseas where there might have been an earlier release date.

    5.- Some are foreign language editions which may be dubbed, or have subtitles in either English, or the foreign language from the country of origin.

    6.- Or the worst method of choice, the concealed camera hand held in the theatre, with additional stars such as the ushers, the audience, and the hands and feet of the thief.

    Where I work , many employees sell this stuff, openly in the facility, on city time and in uniform. In the employee cafeteria, a couple of days before the theatre release of the chronicles of Narnia, we had the chance to view the DVD as it was played by the seller to show the quality, and this was I again say for effect, prior to the release date. One employee makes upwards of $250.00 a day selling these things. He's not the only one, and it isn't restricted to the building I work in. Its a cottage industry, that more of my fellow employees are evolved in, consequences be dammed, full speed ahead man your DVD-R's and plunge into the underground economy.

  9. I'm no lawyer, but I think you've got the wrong approach.

    When I was in book publishing, 100 years or so ago, I had my first real taste of copyright law. Somebody ripped off a specialized book of mine,(on investment diamonds), ran off cheap copies on an office copier, and undersold my book - one-fourth my price - to the small market that might buy it. A quick consultation with a copyright lawyer appalled me with the information that (a) copyright infringement is a civil, not a criminal matter, and (b) the government (e.g., cops, DA's, consumer agencies, the U.S. Marines, etc.) did nothing to enforce it. I would have had to sue the s.o.b., who operated brazenly, and with his name and address in every pirated book, which, unfortunately for me, was in Chicago. My NY lawyer would have had to work through a Chicago lawyer, ... ad infinitum. (Instead, and for a much smaller fee, my lawyer sent the guy a fire-and-brimstone letter, demanding he cease and desist, or else ... . He ceased and desisted. I wrote off the pirated books as just lost (I never knew how many.)

    If the same principles apply here, and since you are a lawyer I assume you know, the studios are the aggrieved parties and should be the ones bearing the burden of control. I think the "criminal" aspects of this racket are the public-nuisance ones: sidewalks and train stations blocked, etc., and the dead certainty that these vendors are unlicensed. The cops can go after them, but can Hollywood defeat the Mafia. (The Godfather movies suggest that this is a laughing matte; perhaps the studios are really reaping what they have sown.)

    As far as disposing of confiscated tapes/DVDs: Henry, you date yourself - and why not? These things are electronic media; unlike books or films, they can simply be erased and used again, say after donation to worthwhile charities. There is even bulk erasing, to make the process simple and cheap.

    Some day, when I have a lot of time, I'd like to give you a contrarian view on intellectual property: It is not mine but one of Sharon's brothers'. He is an advanced mathematician and theoretical physicist and one of the actual persons who created the Internet - which was originally conceived as a means by which my brother-in-law and other likeminded academics could freely exchange information and ideas. He is a very unworldly man of exquisitely high principles (imagine a 6-foot, 8- inch beardless Einstein), and he truly believes that all information should be available to all people at all times, absolutely free. He finds the very concept of intellectual property repugnant. (He was on the faculties of two universities, and during one of our discussions on this hot topic I was forced to remind him, "But brother-in-law dear, you've been paid for every think you've ever thunk.") He really didn't get the point.

  10. Great piece. it's always bugged me that we're the medial capital of the world and that police tolerate the theft of IP without connecting the dots that so much of our economy is based on content creation and distribution.

  11. Counterfeit clothing, jewelry and leather goods manufacturers have been dogged by their legitimate counterparts through the years The cooperation of the NY City Police Department in this area is quite good.

    Perhaps the cost to the legitimate manufacturer of DVD's is so small that it doesn't pay for them to pursue their counterfeiters. Apparently the big loser in this counterfeit ring is the artist who is "done" out of his/hers royalties.

    When Rudy was Mayor and Bill was Police Commish they instituted a program of arresting turnstyle jumpers and squeegee/ers and discovered that many of them were wanted for various crimes and publicity to that effect helped
    carry the campaign to success. There was no public cry, "Why are you picking on these unfortunates?"

    Do you think Mr. Kelly can put this sort of program to the test against your subway vendors?

  12. Thanks for bringing up this example of an unenforced law. Unenforced laws send a message to law-abiding citizens that the authorities have determined that some laws are more important than others, thereby undermining respect for all laws.

    Another observation: many of these vendors contribute to unsafe conditions is these passenger arcades by obstructing half or more of the passageway, causing commuters to bunch up to get around their expansive sheets of DVDs. The vendors in the 42nd Street arcade are the most egregious in my experience

  13. Campus10:51 AM

    I've always enjoyed reading your articles.

    After reading this one and the one we received last night, I have to ask: when you say "we believe X," who is "we"?

    Do you have an editorial board?