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Goon Squad

In this month’s issue of Rock & Rap Confidential, Lee Ballinger and Dave Marsh’s excellent newsletter that has been reporting the music industry news that the music industry doesn’t want you to hear since 1983, I ran across an article concerning the Recording Industry Association of America’s west coast division of their Anti-Piracy Unit.

Rock & Rap reports: “In the western U.S. , ex-Canadian Mountie John Langley leads the RIAA Anti-Piracy Unit (APU). Just before Christmas, reported Ben Sullivan in an excellent L.A. Weekly story, Langley ‘s squads moved in to terrorize Latino street corner vendors. The APU wore black raid vests, claimed they were cops, and made guys like parking lot attendant Cesar Borrayo ‘voluntarily’ give up their small quantities of Mexican oldies compilations. The music police also photograph their victims because, Langley claims, ‘Today he’s Jose Rodriguez, tomorrow he’s Raul something or other, and tomorrow after that he’s something else. These people change their identity all the time.’ Besides racism, what’s going on here?”

No doubt Langley ‘s comments drip of racism, but that’s not the entire story. While some (not RRC) might argue that the APU does a public service by removing bootleg or pirated recordings from the market place, even those who wish to see them confiscated would have to question Langley’s methods.

What it all boils down to is that a fascist has no regard for the rights of his victims_sometimes viewing his targets along racial lines, but not always. John Langley is a fascist, but his targets go beyond Latinos. In October of 1997 I had my own run-in with John Langley. During that period he was an APU agent stationed in the Midwest . I was publishing a magazine at the time called Live Music Review that was often extremely critical of RIAA actions on everything from price-fixing scams to their lobbying efforts to their ludicrous interpretation of copyright law. Live Music Review frequently ran editorials exposing why pirated discs exist (among other things the RIAA’s attempts to keep CD prices falsely inflated through price-fixing, therefore beyond the economic reach of poor people – a conclusion also reached in the RRC article).

I guess I made a few enemies at the RIAA. Six and a half years ago on Yom Kippur, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department in Chicago raided a record collectors convention at the Hillside Holiday Inn. Forty sheriff’s deputies were involved in the raid, all of them following orders that were being barked out by three RIAA agents, including Langley. While the vast majority of the one hundred and forty vendors present were selling old and out of print records and memorabilia (legal), pre-raid undercover purchases of bootlegs (unauthorized recordings of live concerts) were made from twenty-six vendors by the RIAA. Then came the scary part.

The Cook County sheriff’s deputies came storming into the convention center Rambo style. With megaphones blaring, dressed in flak vests, badges hanging on strings around their necks, and all brandishing firearms, they scared the living bejesus out of everybody in the room_customers, vendors and hotel employees alike. Everybody was told not to move until the cops said they could move. The three RIAA agents then told the cops which twenty-six people to arrest. I wasn’t one of the twenty-six, since the only thing I was selling at the convention were magazines. As they were escorting the offenders out, Langley walked up to my table and asked, “Don’t I know you? What’s your name?”

Already perturbed that the deputies were obviously taking orders from the RIAA, a private industry group with no policing powers_not to mention Langley ‘s interrogatory approach to questioning me, I took a confrontational approach to my answer. “I’ve never met you in my life. You better show me a badge before you start addressing me like that.” At which point Langley said “You’re BILL GLAHN.” Then he called over the nearest deputy and said, “This one’s going too.” Busted for talking back!

Except that wasn’t what I was charged with. There were some bootlegs that I had bought from one of the other vendors that morning that I had thought would make interesting review material in Live Music Review. They were located with my personal belongings behind my table, obviously not available for sale. I spent 3 days in the Cook County jail system until I posted bail. The assistant D.A. sold a grand jury a ham sandwich on the taxpayer dime and a trial date was set.

But it never got to trial. The judge overseeing the case obviously viewed the Bill of Rights as something more than the tissue paper that Langley seems to think it is written on. He admonished the sheriff’s department for working as the personal police force of a private entity and pointed out that there are no statutes in Illinois (nor anywhere else) that make buying a bootleg a crime.

Of course, Langley already knew this. He just couldn’t resist his compulsion to engage in the forcible suppression of opposition. That’s the defining trait of a fascist. I was put in jail to shut me up and for no other reason. But all these years later I’m still on my platform. And Langley has been shipped off to the west coast where he obviously is no longer getting the kind of police cooperation that he once got in Chicago . So he’s forced to play cop. But he isn’t a cop. What John Langley is, in reality, is an out-of-control attack dog. Just like the people he works for.

BILL GLAHN is an editor at CFP Midweek, Springfield, Mo. His Show Me Culture column can be found each week at www.cfpmidweek.com.