Police seized more than 25,000 counterfeit compact discs at homes in Anaheim and Westminster on Wednesday, breaking up what officials described as one of the biggest digital audio piracy rings in Southern California.
Police allege that the counterfeiters recorded hit songs by such artists as Puff Daddy, Celine Dion and Lionel Richie using home computers and then sold the pirated discs to discount music stores across the country.
Detectives were tipped off about the ring by private investigators working for the Motion Picture Assn. of America. The organization was trying to determine whether people in the houses were copying digital video discs of Hollywood movies.
In the homes, police found several computers, 40 compact disc makers and more than 1 million compact disc jackets bearings the names of various artists.
Experts said the illegal recording of digital audio discs is on the rise, costing music companies millions of dollars in lost sales.
"We're definitely beginning to see a growing trend on the street," said Charles A. Lawhorn, the vice president of anti-piracy criminal litigation for the Recording Industry Assn. of America. "This kind of piracy is the wave of the future."
Record industry officials expressed concern that advancing technology allows pirates to copy compact discs using little more than a personal computer and a disk drive. The record association said more than 3,000 such computer setups were seized by police across the nation in February alone.
On Monday, police in San Bernardino County busted another pirate ring, recovering about 3,000 counterfeit discs. The problem is considered far worse in Asia, where one raid last April yielded 8 million discs at a Hong Kong factory.
Anaheim police estimated that the discs seized Wednesday have a value of about $250,000. Nine people were questioned in connection with the piracy ring, but no arrests have been made. Sgt. Joe Vargas said the department expects to issue arrest warrants in a few weeks after the investigation is completed.
"This is not your run-of-the-mill fraud case," Vargas said. "This is by far the most significant piracy case we've ever participated in. These guys were good."
If convicted, pirates face up to five years in jail or up to $250,000 in fines.
The disc-making equipment was found in the converted master bedroom of the house in Anaheim. The discs were stored in a garage at the house and at a second home in Westminster, police said.
Investigators estimated the ring has been operating for nearly a year, based on shipping invoices and receipts from music stores.
"This is not like your college buddy coming up to you with a bootleg and trying to sell it to you," Lawhorn added. "This is a big deal."