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Monday, July 08, 2002
Showtime on street for pirated DVDs

Forget about bootleg videotapes. Illegal street peddlers have gone high-tech, hawking high-quality pirated DVDs of first-run films, authorities and movie business officials say. So for $10 — about the price of a movie ticket — DVDs of "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," "Spider-man" and other hits can be bought on a streetcorner near you.

"'Scooby-Doo' is new, and it will play on all machines," promised Joe, selling the animated canine movie hit on Seventh Ave. between 37th and 38th Sts. last week. "If you have any problems, you can bring it back."

Joe, who declined to give his last name, bragged that he had sold "hundreds" of unlicensed "Star Wars" and "Spider-Man" disks.

The peddler's foray into the DVD market is just a reflection of where the legitimate movie biz appears headed.

Last month, Circuit City announced it was phasing out recorded videotapes, and other chains are expected to follow suit. DVDs of the "Harry Potter" flick outsell videotape versions 3 to 2.

Major Street Market

Law enforcement officials are starting to pay attention — authorities and the Motion Picture Association of America confiscated 5 million bootleg DVDs last year compared with less than 2million in 2000.

"It's a major market, in terms of street vendors," said Mark Litvack, director of legal affairs for worldwide antipiracy at the Motion Picture Association of America, which says bootlegged movies cost Hollywood up to $3.5 billion annually.

And New York is at the epicenter of the illegal trade. In May, cops seized a stash of bootleg DVDs and other counterfeit merchandise valued at $125 million after raiding a maze of tunnels hidden under five small stores in SoHo.

City street peddlers can be just as elusive, blending into shopping areas around the city — from Fordham Road in the Bronx to Brooklyn's Fulton St. to Canal St. in lower Manhattan.

"They can set up and then take it down in seconds," said Richard Baker, crime bureau chief for a Bronx district attorney's office unit that investigates and prosecutes video bootlegging.

Authorities blame customers for driving up the demand.

But with more people buying DVD players — and the quality of bootlegs generally higher than the shaky and often out-of-focus pirated videotapes — Joe's customers make no apologies.

"The quality is good, and if it isn't, I return them and he gives me a new one," said customer Terry Cummings.

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