Monday, February 10, 2003

Counterfeit goods growing problem

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati police seized 2,100 counterfeit compact discs and armloads of phony designer clothing in November from a Corryville store owner. But that's one example of a much larger problem, officers say.

The police department, which handles six to 10 counterfeit cases a year, has noticed an increase in street vendors. Some might be selling counterfeit merchandise, but the police typically wait for a complaint to begin investigating.

Since so few people complain, police efforts to stop the counterfeiting have been limited.

"It's gotten to be more prevalent on street corners," said Sgt. David Lovett, a vice squad supervisor. "People who buy it know what they're getting."

It took such a complaint to point police to Dembo Drammeh, 30, of Westwood. His girlfriend reported his business activities after an argument late last year.

Officers seized the thousands of bootleg CDs and faux designer clothing from his store, Drammeh Enterprises at 2726 Vine St.

Now Drammeh faces charges of criminal simulation and trademark counterfeiting in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. If convicted, he could go to jail for up to three years and be fined up to $10,000.

Drammeh said he didn't know the merchandise that he bought in New York was counterfeit.

"I thought it was real," he said. "I see everyone selling them. Just walk up and down the street and look."

Drammeh Enterprises remains open, but is no longer selling the compact discs, mostly DJ mixes of songs by well known artists. Drammeh says he bought them for about $3.50 or $4 each, and sold them at a $1 profit.

His lawyer, Herbert J. Haas, said his client isn't doing anything most teenagers aren't already doing on their own.

"I have sympathy with the recording industry," he said. "But they're selling CDs at a price that makes people think they're getting ripped off. They'd rather make a CD at home for 25 cents or buy one for $5 or $6."

The problem, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, is that counterfeiting is becoming more widespread. And piracy hurts everyone in the recording industry, including the vast majority of record retailers who operate legally, according to the National Association of Recording Merchandisers.

Last year the RIAA launched a legal enforcement initiative that targets music piracy at retail outlets. The RIAA initiative hasn't come to Cincinnati yet. Enforcement won't be easy, because going after counterfeit merchandise takes more than a hunch, Lovett said.


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