WINNIPEG - The Canadian Recording Industry Association says the conviction of a Manitoba man for music and video piracy is a huge step in the fight against illegal recordings.
Raj Singh Ramgotra of Winnipeg pleaded guilty this week to dozens of charges related to criminal copyright infringement. He was given a two-year conditional sentence and must pay $550,000 in fines and restitution.
"This really is a banner day for the Canadian music industry and for artists and record labels across the country and around the world," association spokesman Richard Pfohl told a talk show Friday on Winnipeg radio station CJOB.
"This is one of the largest — if not the largest — verdicts against an offender in history."
Ramgotra, 36, was arrested in 2008 after an extensive RCMP investigation into Winnipeg-based Audiomaxxx.com.
Pfohl said Ramgotra was technically saavy and was shipping an estimated 10,000 bootlegged CDs and DVDs a month from his operation.
"He had a website where he would burn these CDs — none of which he had licensed, all of which he had stolen — and sell them for $3.99, which obviously directly undercut legitimate sales," Pfohl said.
"At one point he was one of the largest sites in the world for physical piracy."
When the RCMP busted Ramgotra, they seized five 12-burner CD and DVD burning towers, computers, hard drives, commercial CD printers, colour copiers and other office equipment, Pfohl said.
He also said that Ramgotra pulled in nearly $2 million from his operation, so "that's money that came directly out of the pockets of artists and record labels."
The association says the victimized artists included Shania Twain, Nelly Furtado and Jay Z.
Pfohl explained that music and video theft has moved on to where individuals download their own material from illegal sites, so there's no longer the need for a middleman to physically burn and pirate CDs.
That's changing how the recording industry fights copyright infringement, he said.
"Our main focus now is ... licensing new legitimate online services, so frankly, even if you were inclined to, it doesn't really make sense to go to the piracy. Nowadays there are dozens of legitimate music services out there that can do everything from give you an a la carte download ... to streaming on demand.
"There's no excuse to go to the pirated stuff."
Consumers who use a site they know to be illegal are liable as well, Pfohl pointed out, although authorities in Canada don't as a rule go after them the way the United States tried to do.
"At the end of the day, you always want to go up to the big fish. It's the equivalent of taking down the big drug dealers as opposed to trying to get the end users. That's not the way to go."
Pfohl believes Canadians are getting the message about illegal downloads and realize they can get more music than they ever have been able to and do it at a reasonable price point.
"We'll never be able to stop piracy 100 per cent. There's always going to be someone who says, 'You know what? I don't even what to pay five bucks a month. I'll just take it for free.'
"But I think we've got the average consumer to realize: 'It doesn't make sense to put myself at risk.'"