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Fri, Feb 07, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Business remains good for Spain's pirated-CD dealers


Every day, Mamadou spreads his blanket on the street at Madrid's Plaza Castilla square -- and as soon as he starts laying his pirated CDs on it, customers begin swarming round.

"I have whatever you like," the Senegalese illegal immigrant says. Whether it's Rolling Stones or Las Ketchup, Shakira or Tom Jones -- Mamadou sells two CDs for 5 euros (US$5.4), a fraction of the store price in the Spanish capital.

"Business is good," Mamadou concedes after selling a dozen CDs in 15 minutes. If only the police weren't at his back the entire time.

"They are always coming," he explains in his broken Spanish. "I barely have time to fold up my blanket with the discs inside it and run away."

Spain is cracking down on the illegal business of pirated music which has soared to one of Europe's biggest especially in the capital Madrid.

Last year, Madrid police seized 1.3 million pirated CDs, three times as many as in 2001. More than 1,000 dealers like Mamadou were detained, and over 50 clandestine production rings dismantled.

"When the police are gone, I come back," Mamadou grins. It is doubtful whether police crackdowns will suffice to stamp out a criminal business thriving on new technologies which pose a huge challenge to the music industry.

Clandestine record factories run by Chinese, Pakistani and other criminal gangs churn out more pirated CDs than police could ever confiscate, press reports said.

Some 1.5 million pirated CDs are estimated to have been sold in Madrid last year, and the Spanish Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE) says 30 per cent of CDs sold in Spain are illegal copies.

Virgin discs and a recording system known as the "toaster" are all it takes. Clandestine factories operate silently, divide their operations between several flats and keep changing locations, making it difficult for police to track them.

So far, police have only discovered 10 percent of illegal record factories operating in Madrid, according to their own estimates.

The music mafias ruthlessly exploit illegal immigrants, some of them children, who burn CDs around the clock. Working in crowded flats in unsalubrious conditions, they are only paid a pittance or -- if they owe a debt to the criminals for smuggling them to Spain -- nothing at all.

The CDs are sold by Senegalese, Ecuadorian and other immigrants known as the "manteros" -- from the Spanish word "manta" or blanket on which they display their goods -- or "mochileros" from the word "bag", used for carrying the discs.

More than 3,000 dealers such as Mamadou are believed to be working in Madrid. "But I only get less than one euro per two CDs sold," the greying African complains.

The sales of Spanish record companies dropped by 11 per cent to 610 million euros last year, and the SGAE estimates that pirating caused the sector total losses of 200 million euros.

Pirating of CDs and DVDs kills off 17,000 jobs in the EU every year, according to Spanish reports.

Some of the foremost victims are young and innovating musicians, as pirating increases record companies' tendency to invest only in what is already known to sell.

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