Navajo lawmaker attempts to outlaw piracy on reservation

By Felcia Fonseca
Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) 4-08

Edmund Yazzie was playing in a hard rock Christian band three years ago when he got a call telling him a company was selling his band’s CDs over the Internet and on the Navajo Nation.

While such bootlegging is illegal under federal law, it’s not illegal on the reservation. The Thoreau, N.M., man hopes to change that with legislation he’s sponsoring during the Tribal Council’s spring session in Window Rock, Ariz.

“I always thought if I ever went into the councilship, that would be one of my goals, to get the pirating law in place,” said Yazzie, who is in his first council term. “That’s just not fair to the music artist. Some of the musicians, this is their livelihoods.”

Anyone caught manufacturing or selling copyrighted material without the owner’s permission could be jailed for a year, ordered to pay a $5,000 maximum fine or both under the proposed legislation. All equipment used to produce or distribute CDs or DVDs and any money made from those sales also could be confiscated.

The law would not apply to those who do not benefit financially from recording CDs, DVDs or live performances.

Independent filmmaker Shonie De La Rosa of Kayenta, Ariz., said piracy is “huge” on the Navajo Nation. A day after he and his wife premiered “Mile Post 398” – a feature length film about the hardships of alcoholism on the reservation – it was being sold at a flea market.

“We put a lot on the line financially and we took that gamble that hopefully people that like our stuff will go out and purchase it where we can at least break even,” he said. “Then someone comes along and takes what we worked so hard for and just steals it.”

De La Rosa estimates DVD bootleggers make about $4 million a year selling Hollywood blockbusters and independent films at flea markets across the reservation, which sprawls across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

“It’s a multimillion-dollar industry, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that,” he said. “It really affects independent Native (American) artists that really struggle to make ends meet.”

Yazzie was thinking about ways to combat piracy when De La Rosa contacted him with an idea on how to educate Tribal Council delegates on the issue.

De La Rosa and his wife, Andee, produced a 20-minute documentary on the affects of piracy that included interviews with bootleggers, musicians, local business owners and filmmakers. The documentary was shown to delegates earlier this month.

De La Rosa is rallying supporters to gather in the council chambers and says he sees no reason the law wouldn’t pass.

“We’re hoping once the law passes that the Navajo law enforcement agencies would hopefully go through the flea markets the minute the law passes (and) do a sweep,” he said.

The council’s Economic Development Committee, however, has recommended the law not go into effect until 90 days after it passes.

De La Rosa acknowledges the law won’t eliminate piracy on the Navajo Nation, but said he hopes it will put a financial dent in bootleggers’ business.