After last Wednesday’s raid on Mondo Kim’s music and video store on St. Marks Place, which resulted in the arrest of five people, Kim’s owner Mr. Youngman Kim, store employees, and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are offering more details.
Second-floor manager Charles Bettis, who was among the five originally booked for trademark counterfeiting in the second degree, sent a mass email upon his
release on June 10, detailing his arrest and jail time. “We went downtown, beforehand they confisicated [sic] our cell phones and thanks to
technology, was not able to memorize anyone’s phone numbers. The pigs still have my cell phone & iPod. So we got put into a pen w/ a bunch of other dudes. The cells were packed constantly, filled w/ 30 or so people at a time, having 10
bullpens down there, body heat made things harder in the dank cells. . . . All the other employees were released from there [sic] cells before me, i had a
panic attack that was prompted by all this stress, not eating (jail is not really vegan friendly) nor sleeping the entire time I was in.”
According to the district attorney’s office, Bettis and the others were ultimately charged with failure to disclose origin of recording in the second degree and trademark counterfeiting in the third degree, both misdemeanors.
Ultimately Mr. Kim is taking full responsibility, stating, “I’m the owner of Kim’s. My employees had nothing to do with it. I am the final person responsible for it.” Kim was issued a desk appearance ticket by the D.A.’s office this week, and a court date is set for mid August.
There has been much confusion as to whether Kim’s employees had been
manufacturing the music mix tapes on store premises. “They keep printing
that we have a CD burner, and we don’t,” explains Sean Williams, assistant
manager of rentals. “We have DVD burners upstairs—there’s no CD burner.” Other employees insist all mix tapes and music DVDs were bought from outside distributors.
But Brad Buckles, the RIAA’s vice president of anti-piracy, noted, “It’s my understanding that the police seized nine DVD burners, and those are used to burn CD-Rs as well.”
“This was overexaggerated by some media,” says Kim. “Some press had an article that we burned CDs everyday, three hours, in the back. It’s definitely ridiculous—we never burned any CDs, at all, in my store. Period.
“The reality is this,” he continues. “We have 120,000 titles of CDs. The police seized 51 titles, from my counting, which are mostly hip-hop mixed by DJs. For us, it’s really hard to know…all the DJs and artists that [have a track on] a hip-hop mix. It is very hard to check what’s in there. Every CD, we couldn’t listen to before we buy. If you had any knowledge about the hip-hop and what they took from us, those CDs have very clear information on who made it and the name and phone number, because we purchase from them.”
The police also seized Kim’s cash register money and computer server, paralyzing all buying and renting. When the store reopened about six hours later, Williams says, employees had no choice but to handwrite all transactions. At the time of this writing, the computers still had not been replaced. Williams adds, “They have all our customers’ files, and they could be doing something with that for all we know. Patriot Act stuff. You know, all the people who rent porno here and wanna run for office, stuff like that. That’s something that’s kinda interesting too. They’re not letting us know what they’re doing with their computers.”
One employee, speaking under conditions of anonymity, believes Sony-Columbia record executives were among the dozen or so police officers who executed
the raid. “One guy from the label went around with the managers, looking
for certain things. He didn’t say that he was [from] Columbia, but the titles that he pulled, to check to see if they were bootlegs or not, were Columbia artists.” Sony-Columbia insists it had no direct involvement with the raid.
Williams also suspected it was label-motivated, however, describing the pair of men he thought were execs as “a couple of California moustache guys that didn’t seem to know the neighborhood.” He adds, “I saw that when they were trying to order their food, they came outside, trying to figure out [where they were].” After kicking out the employees, Williams says, the police had a “pizza party” on the music department floor, in sight of all the barred employees standing outside.
Buckles explains that perhaps employees were confusing label representatives for RIAA experts. “We did have representatives there to help identify the products involved. The labels themselves generally don’t have any anti-piracy enforcement mechanism; as the trade association representing all the labels, the RIAA [acts on behalf of] the companies that produce and distribute about 90 percent of music today. They’re generally employees of ours and not the labels themselves. . . . Columbia didn’t have anything to do with the raid.”
Still, Mr. Kim disagrees: “Columbia complained. We got a paper that the police showed us.” He says authorities could simply have taken unlicensed material off the shelves. “We are willing to cooperate. This is totally unnecessary.”
“It just doesn’t make sense for any record labels to put any stores out,” adds Williams. “They didn’t really ask who’s responsible until after everybody who would have been responsible left. It was just sloppy. And they left grease all over the floor from their pizza.”
What surprised Kim’s employees most was the relative randomness with which the police arrested people—especially when they could have taken down those most directly responsible for the ordering of mix tapes and the on-site making of DVD bootlegs. “They kinda misunderstood the size of the store,” explains a Kim’s employee. “They thought this was the only store. They didn’t really have it together. Because once they realized there were other stores, they were upset
that [the stores weren’t] raided all at once. So when they were grabbing
the managers, they had assumed that the managers were responsible for buying. That’s why they grabbed the wrong people.”
Williams adds, “They did a sloppy job. They didn’t get any of the responsible people. If they had to arrest somebody, they definitely just arrested whoever was right there.” In addition to Bettis, police arrested music manager Craig Willingham and three store clerks.
Buckles explains: “It’s my understanding that the employees who were charged were involved in the burning, or were making sales where they were knowingly going around the regular inventory system. They weren’t salesclerks who were ringing things up as they go by them; they were salesclerks who were ringing them up, seeing what it was, and ringing them up special because they knew that they had to be treated differently.”
Kim, however, says the mix tapes were not treated differently from other store merchandise. “They were part of inventory I found out, but they are a very, very little part. As I said, 51 titles, as I counted, seized by police—we have 120,000 titles.”
Though no non-music DVDs were seized, Williams believes the Motion Picture Association of America may have played a role in the raid as well; an MPAA spokesperson confirmed their presence at the raid. Buckles added, “We’ve quite frequently worked with MPAA. As the equipment and the raw materials needed to engage in piracy have merged, so have the operations.”
As for the nature of video bootlegging around New York, Williams had this to say: “There’s other smaller video stores that do it too, have a couple of bootleg movies of things that aren’t available. I mean as soon as something becomes legitimately available, [they] always replace the bootlegs. [They] don’t like having them, but when things aren’t available, that’s why [they] have them, and everybody knows that.”
Immediately after the raid, Mr. Kim’s other stores took action. According to Williams, despite a similar raid that occurred at their store nearly seven years ago, Kim’s Video does not plan on buying or selling bootlegs anymore. The store plans to fill with music imports the shelf space that had formerly been used for mix tapes.
“If you have any idea about Kim’s,” explains Mr. Kim, “[it] is very well-known for underground artists—musicians and filmmakers. We are the biggest supporters nationwide for the underground artist. We always support their work before they become very famous. We have a strong platform for those underground filmmakers and musicians. The hip-hop that the police seized has a very little platform for those artists. Otherwise I don’t see what we did wrong at all. Period. We are serving the poor, young, very experimental artists nationwide—I should say the world wide.”