Why do Amazon, Fnac, etc sell illegal DVDs in large quantities ? Part 1: the EU

Posted on 06/01/12

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Why do Amazon, Fnac, etc sell illegal DVDs in large quantities ? (Part 1 - the EU)
(Picture by Soundonthesound) - After the Depeche mode live 1982 DVD debacle (yep, we screwed up big time here, and our sincere apologies to Mute for this hasty & lousy job), we decided to check into the distribution of these DVDs, which according to the labels of said artists are illegal, but which are spread in large amounts worldwide through various mainstream distribution channels. Here's a first part concerning the distribution of these items in Europe.

The catalogue that these companies carry is rather huge. You will find titles by Coldplay, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, Metallica, Devo, Dire Straits, The Doors, Franz Ferdinand, Bryan Ferry, Peter Gabriel, Massive Attack, New Order, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Oasis, PIL, Lou Reed, Slipknot, U2 and so on and so on. And these DVDs get sold by thousands at Mediaworld, FNAC, Amazon and companies alike worldwide.

Headliner - and other companies - have been releasing live DVDs of famous acts for years now and so far without running into problems with GEMA or artists or labels. Why? Our guess was that these dodgy labels found a kind of niche in the law, that allowed them to release such live-DVDs. But was it the case? We went talking with Alexis Ewbank, a specialized lawyer regarding this matter.

Alexis: "There are actually two possible reasons that these live recordings are still available on plenty of sites and have entered the mainstream distribution channels so easily. Either the concerned labels and bands just didn't bother until now (editor's note: it's still the trend in music land that being bootlegged means you are also 'important', hence why some labels even give certain companies the right to publish bootlegs, but that's a whole other story and is not of application here as the concerned labels did not give their ok for these DVD's to be spread.).

But the second reason is something which is probably the case here. There's a ruling regarding free distribution of goods inside the EC that says that when a product has been distributed in one country without any problem that ii no longer can be stopped from being distributed in the other 24 EC member countriess. Add to that that in the past especially one country had/has a very bad judicial ruling when it came to author rights: Italy. Italy indeed had/has no decent legislation regarding this matter or at least is less protective when it comes to author rights regarding musicians. So once a live DVD can be distributed in Italy it can also be distributed elsewhere in Europe. On top, to make it even more complicated, these companies will often pay mechanical rights but not the performers rights."

We are also checking - via an American specialized lawyer - into why these releases also pop up on US based retailer sites. More info as we get it.

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