The war against piracy resurfaced in Puerto Rico with 26 arrests. Investigations led to the indictment and arrest of 26 individuals who allegedly violated Title 17, United States Code, Sections 506(a)(1) & (b); and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2319 (b)(1).

In May, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, working with the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), the Puerto Rico Bureau of Special Investigations, and officials of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry of America (RIAA), launched “Operation Digital Pirates."

The first phase of the operation served to seize more than 53,0000 counterfeit music CDs and movie DVDs. The product raids took place in flea markets throughout Puerto Rico as an initiative from ICE to identify intellectual property rights (IPR) violators and were followed by the arrests.

According to the indictment, those arrested violated copyright laws by reproducing and distributing CDs and DVDs for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico is committed to the prosecution of individuals who sell counterfeit products. In the end, this underground market is damaging to the artists, the local economy and the consumers,” said Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “The joint efforts of federal and state law enforcement agencies, in collaboration with music and movie industry groups in Puerto Rico, will have a significant impact on the black market which has proliferated in recent years.”

In 2006 alone, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE declared an 83 percent increase in the number of IPR seizures, including 14,675 seizures of counterfeit goods worth more than $155 million. Furthermore, ICE investigations resulted in 219 arrests, 134 indictments and 170 convictions for intellectual property rights violations.

Copyright infringement is sanctioned with up to five years of imprisonment as a first offense or 10 years if the offense is subsequent, with a fine of $250,000 or more.

“There can be no doubt that the illegal music trade is big business, attracting various types and groups of criminals who increasingly have connections to drugs, guns and in some cases even terrorist activities,” said Brad Buckles, executive vice president for anti-piracy for RIAA. “These are crimes that require close collaboration between law enforcement, government and the intellectual property industries in a way that provides a sustained pressure on those who steal in this manner. The illegal trafficking of counterfeit music and other goods drives local retailers out of business and deprives cities and states of important tax revenue generated from legitimate purchases."

ICE or other agencies did not specify if other “Operation Digital Pirates" were being planned in other parts of the nation. The origins for an idea of such operation or means of funding were neither discussed. What is left to do for distributors of these products is stop business or risk being caught at the wrong pace, in the wrong time.

About The Author

Bessie King is a Blast contributing editor. She can be reached at [email protected]

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