On October 22, 2004, thousands of printed DVDs, audio and video cassettes, and audio CDs of Indian films and music have been seized in a series of raids over the past few months in Fairfax Country, Virginia. Raids targeted Indian retail stores & grocery outlets in Fairfax, and a home in northern Virginia.
Virginia State Attorney General Jerry W Kilgore's office and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, working with Department of Homeland Security and the Fairfax Country Police Department, carried out the raids.
Law enforcement agents seized copies of counterfeit artwork, VHS labels and counterfeit holograms, computers, business and financial records, and equipment and supplies used for packaging counterfeit media products. The results of the seizures have been handed over to Virginia prosecutors.
Representatives of leading Indian film and music companies, such as Yash Raj Films, Video sound, Spark media, Saregama and Tips Exports, were present during the raids and assisted in the identification of pirated products.
The raids in Fairfax - believed to be the richest country in the country, and home to an increasing South Asian population - followed warning and communications by and on behalf of Indian film and music companies against piracy of Indian films and sound recordings.
The raids had a fallout September 30th when over 20 Indian store owners - many of whom believe they are being victimized - came together at a conference organized by the Fairfax Country Police Department Led by Detective Larry Henderson, and the New York law Firm of Poppe & Bouraskar that has represented some major distributors of Indian films and music, to brainstorm on how to ferret out pirates.
The conference was intended to allay concerns of storeowners, who believe they are being punished for no fault of theirs, as they are not in a position to tell the difference between legitimate and pirated products.
"I was present on behalf of our clients who could not attend, as well as to provide legal counsel on issues raised about copyright infringement," William Poppe of Poppe and Bhouraskar told reporters.
"Our firm brings the experience of working with law enforcement in jurisdictions across the US and Canada."
Poppe lauded the conference hosted by Henderson as "the type of coordination between law enforcement, industry representatives and owners" that was reflective of "over 10 years" efforts in establishing credibility for Indian film and music companies, joint industry trade groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America, and connecting law enforcement throughout North America."
Yash Raj Films has estimated that it loses $5 to pirate sales for every $1 of legitimate sales.
At the conference, an agreement was reached that stores would be granted limited licenses to make VHS copies of movies for retail distribution through each individual store.
"Retail stores were asked for specific information on parties delivering pirated copies to stores and some discussion was held on the possible settlement of potential criminal and civil claims arising out of the seizures," Poppe noted.
Henderson told the retailers the conference was to 'see how everyone can earn a living,' but made it clear the police would not tolerate continued piracy.' If you are pirating, you need to stop. You have two choices- stop pirating or go to jail.'
"We can do some good here." Henderson told reporters, but parried questions to Sergeant Richard Perez of the Fairfax country Police Department's public affairs office.
Perez told reporters the discussion was an informational exchange, to get industry representatives together with consumers and see how everyone could work together. He said a presentation was made about how storeowners would be able to "detect the pirates and the pirated products, so the merchants themselves not fall victims to pirates - the guys with whom detectives have issues and with the industry have issues with."
He said differentiation between real and fake was difficult, but not impossible. "If a DVD or CD sells for $20 and he gets it at $5 from his supplier, that should be indicator number one - that it's too good to be true."
Davinder Singh, who owns Bombay Spices in Centreville, Virginia, and who acted as spokesman for the storeowners at the meeting, told reporters, "It is something good that has happened, although we might have some consequences where some of us, including me might be suffering a bit. But we can live with that as long as the playing field is leveled."
Singh said one outcome of the meeting would be that "we'll be able to give a better quality to the consumer and we will be able to get a better return from the consumers." Another positive outcome, he said, would be that Indian and other South Asian store owners and retail businesses would not be stereotyped as those who always deal in pirated products, and would not be harassed by law enforcement.
He said the store owners were also "forming an association - we haven't formalized it - and our primary goal is how to get the pirates out of the system from this area and then we will have other goals also where the community can benefit and the retailers can benefit at the same time."