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Almost 25% of CDs on Amazon could be counterfeit

By | Published on Wednesday 2 November 2016


Nearly a quarter of 194 CDs ordered by the Recording Industry Association Of America off of Amazon turned out to be counterfeit discs according to a Wall Street Journal report on a new piracy challenge for the music business: the sale of bootleg CDs by third parties through legitimate platforms like Amazon.

As previously reported, America’s indie label trade group A2IM recently put out a message to its members alerting them to this new trend. Bootleg CDs are nothing new of course, but by selling them via Amazon, where they get listed alongside the official product as supplied by the record companies, customers will assume they are getting albums from legitimate sources.

Some of the bootleggers even use Amazon’s fulfilment services, so that their counterfeit disks arrive in the web giant’s packaging. The quality of the bootleg versions is often sufficiently good that even someone at the label would struggle to tell the difference (though bootlegs from China are generally a better quality than those that originate in Russia, says the RIAA). That means the customer probably won’t know that they got a counterfeit disc, even though the label and artist have been deprived of income.

The Journal says that the sale of counterfeit CDs online from Chinese and Russian sources into key markets has increased in the last eighteen months, meaning that while physical formats are in decline anyway, consumer demand might actually be declining slower than the revenues that the labels receive suggest.

A2IM’s recent blog post on the issue said that the counterfeiters usually get their CDs on the market within a couple of weeks of the official release, and then offer them a few cents cheaper than the official product. It also suggested that, because of the way Amazon’s fulfilment centres work, official and counterfeit versions of the same albums could get mixed up at the web firm’s distribution centres.

When the RIAA decided to stage a small investigation into the problem, it ordered 194 CDs via Amazon and found that 44 were counterfeits, of which eighteen were fulfilled by Amazon itself. The RIAA’s test also suggested that greatest hits albums were more likely to be faked, with 28 of the 36 hits albums it ordered turning out to be bootlegs.

The Journal quotes RIAA anti-piracy man Brad Buckles as saying that “Amazon should not be playing host to illegal items that would normally be found on the black market”, though he conceded that the company had expressed a desire to tackle the problem.

An Amazon spokesperson, meanwhile, said the company had “zero tolerance for the sale of counterfeits” and that it was “working closely with labels and distributors to identify offenders, and remove fraudulent items from our catalogue. We are also taking action and aggressively pursuing bad actors”.

Not that Amazon will be the only platform via which this is happening, though in many key markets for the record industry it is likely to be the biggest.