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This article was taken from the Globe Gazette Newspaper located in Mason City, Iowa

M.C. police officer triggers major bust of bogus CDs

By BOB LINK, Of The Globe Gazette

MASON CITY - An investigation of a suspicious compact disc purchased in Mason City has led to the seizure of more than 215,000 illegal compact discs in Iowa, Arizona and Florida.

The disc, which was determined to be "bootlegged," was purchased at a local retail store and turned over to the Mason City Police Department.

The Recording Industry Association of America reports the music industry loses about $4.2 billion to piracy operations annually. A spokesman said the Mason City case allowed law enforcement to stop a large operation which was producing illegal products with a street value of more than $1 million.

Mason City police investigator Dan Wellen started the case in January 2002 and it quickly expanded.

In April 2002, an anti-drug task force near Flagstaff, Ariz., seized more than 55,000 illegally recorded compact discs.

In September 2002, an additional 160,000 discs were seized in Florida.

The RIAA, which helped investigate the cases, presented Wellen with an award for his work.

"It is not unusual to find an operation like this," said Frank Creighton, executive vice president of the Anti-Piracy Division of the RIAA. "But to uncover a case of this magnitude, which extended all over the country, is very unique."

Creighton said Wellen's effort and the work of the Mason City Police Department were critical in breaking the large operation.

Wellen said the case started with an unhappy customer who brought a compact disc to the police station.

"I had heard the industry talk about pirating problems, but knew nothing about it," he said. "So I called the RIAA. They were great to work with. They suggested we go buy another CD and they'd tell us if it was illegal."

Wellen said he has learned that there are three types of illegal discs.

The type he was dealing with was a bootleg disc, which involves the unauthorized recording of a live performance.

"They told me exactly what to look for," he said. "And after I explained what I saw on the disc, they said we had a bootleg."

Wellen said state and federal theft laws deal with unauthorized reproduction of recorded music.

"You can't record, or copy, and sell music unless you're the owner," said Wellen. "It has little or nothing to do with money. It's about who intellectually owns the property."

There were no charges issued against the Mason City business, which Wellen declined to identify.

"The local people cooperated," he said. "It was handled just like you would a dope deal. They helped us identify larger dealers. They were very, very helpful and were good to work with."

Wellen said two agents from the RIAA came to Mason City to help the investigation.

Wellen traveled to Florida to help execute a search warrant at a major operation. He said he saw a large number of compact disc "burners" (duplicators) when police entered the facility.

"With the availability of cheap technology to do this, there has been an uprising of small operations, creating a cottage industry situation," Creighton said. "In the past, it took a larger plant to do this type of thing. Now it's done in smaller operations."

Creighton said the RIAA works closely with local and state law enforcement to enforce recording laws.

"As for the situation in Mason City, it allowed us to extend an investigation that ultimately took us across the United States."

Wellen said the case had Iowa connections in West Des Moines, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids.

Wellen said the investigation of illegal recording and resale operations in North Iowa continues and the first case isn't likely to be the last.

Reach Bob Link at 421-0538 or