Pirates swamp online stores with counterfeit music CDs

Big retailers like Amazon can't escape bootleggers.

Joker/Walter G. Allgöwer/ullstein bild via Getty Images

It can be easy to forget that CDs still represent a significant chunk of the music industry's revenue in the streaming era, but pirates certainly haven't forgotten. The Wall Street Journal has learned that counterfeit CDs are a serious problem at Amazon and other online stores. Bootleggers (frequently from China) produce discs that are increasingly similar to the real deal and sell them for slightly less than legitimate copies, making them look like bargains instead of obvious frauds. And they aren't always coming from obscure suppliers, either. In an RIAA investigation, Amazon fulfilled 18 out of 44 CD orders identified as counterfeit.

In some cases, pirates get away with the act by exploiting how stores like Amazon manage inventory. They'll let third parties lump their stock in with those of official partners (right down to similar barcodes), making it relatively easy to slip bogus products through the cracks.

The RIAA says Amazon was eager to help tackle pirated material after learning of the findings, and Amazon itself says it's "working closely" with both distributors and labels to clamp down on counterfeiters. There's certainly some urgency to improve anti-piracy efforts. Although downloads and streaming thrive in North America, CDs make up just shy of 40 percent of worldwide music industry revenue. Publishers can't count on digital sources to pick up all the financial slack, especially in regions where CDs are either relatively popular (such as Europe) or the only realistic way to listen. Until broadband is both ubiquitous and genuinely affordable for a large chunk of the world, CD piracy is bound to be tempting.