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Departments : In the Hood

A High-Tech Spin on Counterfeiting

Gangs profit from the lucrative business of illegal CD manufacturing.

December 01, 2002  |  by Al Valdez


In this age of technology, counterfeiting has become an even easier and more lucrative operation. Many gangs have realized this and take full advantage of such "business opportunities."

There are several types of counterfeit operations gang members can be involved in. Paper operations include forging checks, as well as creating counterfeit traveler's checks, identification, and even bus passes. For these  criminal enterprises, losses can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Even more lucrative are high-tech operations that include the illegal duplication of movies, music, and computer software. Needless to say, this type of counterfeiting has become the operation of choice. Due to the advanced computer technology available, gray and black market cash, and local and international connections, millions of dollars of non-recorded income a month can be generated.


Replicator machines, which can cost up to $1 million dollars, use plastic seeds fed into the machine by vacuum tubes to create raw CDs.

As a cop, it's useful to know how gang members and other criminals make counterfeit software, movies, and music CDs so you know what to look for. To investigate, you should also know how to determine whether or not a CD is counterfeit. These operations might be more prevalent than you think.

Duplication machines are commonly used in legitimate business practices. However, unscrupulous business owners sometimes use their machines to illegally duplicate thousands of copies of copyrighted material. The new duplication processes can produce thousands of CDs in just a few hours. Finding such an operation and shutting it down can make a great impact.

Master Copies


Ready for stamping.

If someone were going to illegally duplicate a current popular movie, he would buy a legitimate copy of it at a video store. The information from that movie would first need to be placed on a DLT tape. The tape is a little larger than the size of a VHS video tape. A special computer program transfers the audio and video information from the legitimately bought disc to the DLT tape.

This DLT tape becomes the master for a master CD or DVD, often called the "stamper." The information from the DLT tape is stored in a specialized format and is used to manufacture the stamper. The DLT tape can be used to make several stampers.


The finishing touch to an illegally copied CD is the label, made from “artwork” created on this machine.

In non-technical terms, think of the stamper as the CD or DVD negative. One of these light metal discs must be made for each software, music, or movie title to be duplicated. One stamper costs around $400 to make, but it can be used to make up to 50,000 copies.

Once created, the stamper is placed in a machine that transfers the information to blank CDs or DVDs. The whole process is automated and controlled by computers. The machines the stamper is placed in can cost from $900,000 to $1 million each.

DLT tapes and stampers can be great evidence of a counterfeit duplication operation.


Creating a DLT tape is the first step in transferring data from an original CD to an illegal copy.

Duplication

Once a stamper has been manufactured, the duplication process can be started. The duplication machine is large in size and looks complicated. This is because it contains many automated and moving parts. Owners of these machines have stated that it can take more than a week to get the machine set up and operational. In legitimate businesses, the machines are set up in a clean room. Normally, people wear an outer protective paper jumpsuit and mask to ensure that no contaminants are introduced into the manufacturing process. In other words there is quality control.


A “stamper” is a master disc that can be used to make up to 50,000 copies of a CD or DVD.

The clean rooms you find in counterfeit operations are a little different. I have seen clear plastic panels acting as the doorway into the manufacturing area. Sometimes the rooms where the machines are located are air-conditioned to compensate for the heat produced as the machines operate. Clear plastic pellets are transferred from large plastic bags to the machines via large vacuum-cleaner-like suction tubes. The machine melts the plastic pellets and reshapes them to form a basic CD. The machine can manufacture thousands of these raw CDs with precise accuracy. Each CD made is of standard size and weight and is balanced to spin correctly.

Tags: Counterfeiting


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