As a full-time CD and DVD pirate for the last five years I read your article with deep interest [“The Bootleggers” by Tasneem Paghdiwala, August 17]. I have found that my experience differs greatly from the unorganized and uneducated bootleggers you featured. I started pirating music in college and became addicted to the fast money and control it gave me over my work hours each semester. While my friends lost sleep working at Starbucks and retailers part-time and full-time, I was earning a full-time income working a few hours a day for myself pirating goods.
Your bootlegger story pretty much sums up the experience of most urban bootleggers I know, and I have learned to live comfortably doing the exact opposite of those sad cases of ghetto entrepreneurs. They work at night in seedy locations and are content with $800 a month. Seventy-five dollars for a Friday is pathetic. I make that in one hour on Fridays. I make $2,000 a month working less than 20 hours a week. They charge customers crackhead prices and I charge more because I have found there will always be people who will pay for anything cheaper than the retail store. I also charge my customers more because I make it clear to them my time is worth more than five CDs or DVDs for $10. Because of my clean and neat appearance and sober lifestyle I have had only three encounters with police in five years, two of which only resulted in peddler’s license street violation tickets, which I tore up and ignored. I have never been locked up and the worst thing that has happened to me is a robbery at gunpoint in another city I tried working in two years ago.
Working downtown right under the nose of police has been safer and more lucrative, and unlike the bootleggers in Tasneem’s story I don’t have to physically fight anyone for territory.
The gangs control the south and west sides and selling anything illegal in those territories is likely to expose you to more robbery, police, and shakedowns by gangs. I have a college degree but just hate working for white people spending an entire day in someone’s cubicle for a paycheck I can make in five hours on any given Friday payday. My customers are security guards, retail workers, students, and anyone who values paying $5 for a CD or movie that cost $15 at the local retail store. I know what I do is wrong, but I also feel my working for a company making $2,000 commissions off my selling 30K in products is wrong. I would rather be a pirate and make my own money than make some white guy who has a monopoly on business opportunities in America richer.
Although your article was funny and entertaining, you really could’ve chosen some better examples of people who pirate for a living. Imagine writing an expose on prostitution and you feature the experiences of the $20 crack whore instead of the $400-an-hour escort. Piracy is growing and those guys you featured have an experience that certainly is not reflective of most of those who seriously engage in the crime.
The Professional Pirate