An FBI undercover investigation into motion picture piracy led to the seizure yesterday of at least 300 video cassettes of popular motion pictures, including "Superman," "10" and "Norma Rae," during a raid on a Northern Virginia residence.
The agents also took possession of a tape duplicating machine at the home in the Chantilly section of western Fairfax County.
An FBI spokesman said the seizure is believed to be the first major one involving first run video tapes in the Washington area. The illegal copying and distribution of box office hits for use on television tape recorders is a booming, multi-million dollar a year business, according to film industry officials.
FBI agents also carried out simultaneous raids on five homes in the Los Angeles area yesterday in which more than 500 video tapes were seized, spokesmen said.
The FBI spokesman said that during the investigation, which began nine months ago in Los Angeles, undercover agents purchased copies of several first-run movies, including "Apocalypse Now," "The Onion Field," "The Muppet Movie," and "Alien." Undercover agents were also able to watch the copying of some films, the spokesman said.
No arrests were made in yesterday's raids. An FBI official said the tapes and other evidence seized at the Chantilly residence will be turned over to a federal grand jury in eastern Virginia. Possible charges would include violation of federal copyright laws as well as wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen goods, the FBI said.
FBI said the Fairfax raid was car ried out at 3924-A Chantilly Rd., but declined to identify the occupants.
Prices for illegal tapes range from $25 to $500 each, depending on quality and the film, FBI agents said.
"It's a multimillion dollar a year business that is growing by leaps and bounds," said retired FBI, agent Robert Mann, an investigator with the industry's Film Security Office in Los Angeles. Mann said the Motion Picture Association of America now has investigators stationed in Paris, Hong Kong and New York as well as Los Angeles, who are seeking to curb sales of the illegally copied tapes.
He said the making of video tape machines for home viewing has prompted the sharp growth in the illegal market. "It's so easy and inexpensive to copy the material," he said. Pirates can sometimes put a print on the market even before the original is released to theaters, he said.
He said it's easy for the pirates to get access to the films from movie laboratories, rental companies, studios, distributors and theaters.