Pirates of the Andes

Published

Robin Perkins

Coming back from South America was never going to be easy. After a year spent studying in the sprawl of Buenos Aires and a few months winding through the Andes on rusty buses in the rainy season, adjusting to home has taken a while. Things are just different. While preparing a presentation on music piracy for my Spanish class last week I stumbled across Lily Allen’s outburst against illegal downloads back in September and instantly thought of the differences betewen here and there. A look at the counterfeit industry in Latin America soon puts things into perspective.

I recall the countless times I would be offered counterfeit music, films and software whilst riding the subway, passing a local market or just quietly sipping a coffee. The piles of DVD sized packets fronted by blonde temptresses with their breasts modestly covered by clip art stars and the striking titles such as “Supercumbias!” or “Los Mejores Exitos de 2011.” Some even went to the trouble of copying the record labels small print warning that it is prohibited to copy or redistribute this disc, the irony perhaps lost on its creators.

In Peru it is estimated that 99% of all CD sales are illegal. Mexico tells a similar tale with one representative of the industry admitting that piracy is now “entrenched”. The explanation become quite clear when you discover that, for example in Peru, the average wage is $150. An original album costs about $14 whereas you can pick up a pirate disc with over 200 MP3s for $2. Widespread corruption, the apathy of authorities and the organisation of the counterfeiters add to the startling scale of piracy across the continent. In the Peruvian capital Lima, the main market, lined with pirate “shops” is just round the corner from the city’s central police station. It is often easier to find an illegal copy than the original.

Though countries such as Argentina and Chile may appear to have more control over illegal copying, if you scratch beneath the surface you soon discover counterfeit goods are everywhere. In Buenos Aires, just across the road from one of the city’s biggest shopping malls lies a maze of kiosks selling all the latest blockbusters, cracked software and chart hits.

What is perhaps more worrying is the suggested link between large-scale piracy and organised crime. Some investigators have hinted at the involvement of Colombian cartels, Chinese triads and even the Italian mafia. In a highly organised operation, hundreds of thousands of discs are transported across the continent, eventually appearing on streets from Venezuela to Paraguay.

Considering the economic limitations of consumers, the power of the gangs running operations and the cultural acceptance of buying pirate goods, authorities and labels face an uphill struggle, If the RIAA and the IFPI think they have it bad fighting the founders of Oink and Pirate Bay they should perhaps consider themselves lucky.