Move gives police three new means to pursue criminals

MEXICO CITY — Mexico has approved tough new measures to fight piracy in the music, video and software industries, dubbing the manufacture and distribution of counterfeits as examples of organized crime.

Pirates may face 20-40 years behind bars, up from a 12-year maximum.

Move also gives the Mexican police three new means to pursue pirates: house arrest of suspects for up to 30 days; phone taps; and protected witnesses, who may give evidence without defendants knowing their identity.

Law is aimed at the ringleaders and will not affect millions of vendors who sell pirated goods on street corners and in markets across the country.

Economy Secretary Luis Ernest Derbez said the aim was to slash piracy 10%-15% a year until 2006.

“We used to call it the ‘informal market’ because we were embarrassed to call it by its real name,” Derbez said. “But in reality they were illegal markets. The conditions for business will improve.”

But Derbez’s targets may be impossible. The black market is thought to make up roughly half of Mexico’s GDP. Without major inroads to reduce poverty, experts say that cannot change greatly.

Meanwhile, the federal Specialist Unit Against Organized Crime, which also tackles terrorists, auto-thieves and drug traffickers, has just 50 agents, the attorney general’s office confirmed to Daily Variety.

Nevertheless, the Motion Picture Assn., which lost an estimated $70 million in Mexico in 2001 mainly due to video piracy, has welcomed the change.

“We are very happy. This gives us an important set of legal tools to tackle the problem,” said Francisco Guerra, director of the MPA’s anti-piracy program. But for piracy to be eradicated in Mexico, a social solution would also be necessary, he added.

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