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Bill seeks to crack down on counterfeiters

The Brooklyn Paper
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David Yassky’s efforts to get pirated CDs off the street has run into his former rivals from his congressional run: his Council colleague Charles Barron and racial politics.

The same East New York Democrat who called Yassky an “opportunis­tic carpetbagger” during the controversial race that pitted Yassky against three black candidates is now accusing the Brooklyn Heights lawmaker of pushing an anti-piracy bill to “protect a sinfully wealthy industry rather than the people of New York.”

Yassky’s bill targets vendors of illegally copied movies and music recordings — the most visible players in the city’s $23-billion-a-year trade in counterfeit goods.

The legislation would raise fines on such vendors and, in some cases, raise the crime to felony status. It would also empower the Department of Consumer Affairs to bust rogue dealers, giving them the search-and-seize power that now only cops hold.

The fines will range from $500 to $5,000, which is a lot to someone selling Rolexes for $2 a pop.

And that’s what put it on Barron’s racial radar screen. At a hearing last week, the former Black Panther was the first to speak against the legislation.

“We need to look at creating jobs in our communities, not putting more police on the streets to protect a wealthy, wealthy industry,” Barron said, arguing that the bill unfairly targeted people of color.

“[Yassky] is clueless to what the real needs are in the parts of the city where unemployment and poverty are rampant,” he added after the hearing.

“He doesn’t mingle. He doesn’t feel our pain. He isn’t in touch with what people do to survive.”

Yassky disagreed, defending his bill as necessary to keep film industry jobs in New York and defeat an underground economy of illegal goods that cost the city $2.6-billion in tax revenue in 2003, according to the comptroller’s office.

“The sale of counterfeit goods is not a victimless crime,” he said, pushing his bill, which is backed by the Motion Picture Association of America and other entertainment industry giants.

“Workers, from retail industry employees to laborers on movie sets, have lower wages and fewer benefits because of these knock-off peddlers.”

But other members of the Council echoed Barron, criticizing Yassky for targeting vendors.

“I am still weighing the issue,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights), who is black.

“Obviously, counterfeiting is a problem that must be solved. I am not sure if increasing criminal penalties will do that.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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