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Pirate CDs Safe at Greek Schools

December 4, 1998

SALONICA, Greece (AP) _ Record stores awaiting the latest release from popular Greek singer Giannis Parios watched in frustration when it turned up first as a pirated compact disc at Greece’s largest university.

Sales of the bootleg CD were illegal _ but well-protected.

Rogue merchants are taking advantage of pro-democracy laws that essentially bar police from Greek college campuses to offer pirated music CDs, software and CD-ROMs with near impunity.

The crates and tables at the flea market-style bazaar at Aristoleion University represent a small but highly visible part of a booming trade in illegal CDs that has frustrated regulators and music industry executives from the United States and European Union.

The hub of the contraband production in Europe is formerly communist Bulgaria, less than 50 miles from the port of Salonica. The city has become an important EU foothold for the traffickers.

The unauthorized CDs are cheap and well-made, and they cost EU music companies at least $200 million a year in lost sales, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a trade group based in Brussels, Belgium.

U.S. officials have complained about copyright infractions and have urged Greece to crack down on the traffickers, and customs officers routinely seize pirated CDs.

Bulgarian authorities faced possible trade sanctions before they took steps to squeeze the organized crime rings involved in the CD piracy. In October, the interior ministry spokesman, Chavdar Krumov, promised ``non-stop″ pressure on CD pirates.

But the merchants at Aristoleion feel little heat from police, who can come no closer than the university’s metal fence just yards away from the open-air market.

``Students do not really care whether something is legal or not,″ said Giorgos Karanasios, a representative of one of the student unions. ``If they can buy it cheaper, then it’s worth it.″

The prices for the pirated CDs range from $7.15 to $10.70, compared to prices of up to $36 in stores. Shoppers spend more than $3,570 on CDs and CD-ROMs each day at the university, according to estimates.

``The unlawfulness of this business is taken for granted,″ Karanasios said. ``But it is not up to us to stop it.″

Some trade groups have complained to prosecutors, but police investigators may not enter the campus without permission from the faculty council. Faculty are sensitive to the wishes of students and rarely grant such clearance.

The police are hampered by a law enacted in response to a bloody crackdown on student demonstrators in 1973 by the military regime then in power. After democracy was restored in 1974, the new government made university campuses off-limits to police.

The Union of Record Store Owners of Northern Greece and some media reports claim that gangs with apparent links to Bulgarian CD pirates oversee the Salonica market and pay students $36 a day to peddle the recordings.

``Without doubt ... those who control this business are not students,″ said Irini Tsiliri, head of the Greek office of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

So far, there has been just one serious attempt to end the CD sales at the university. Early this year, police received rare permission to enter the campus. They confiscated more than 15,000 music CDs and CD-ROMs.

``The retailers, however, soon came back,″ said Michalis Papadopoulos, the university’s dean.

Papadopoulos said he ``intends to take any further legal action required to wipe out the black market that slanders the biggest university in Greece.″

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