Fans of vinyl records, beware.
Audiophiles willing to pay top-dollar prices for their prized LPs have triggered a nostalgic resurgence in the classic recording format that has not escaped the attention of criminals looking to score easy money from unwitting prey.
On Tuesday a U.K. court found 55-year-old Richard Hutter guilty of distributing counterfeits via his company Vinyl Groove, as well as a U.S. website and eBay.
Hutter charged up to $44 for the illicitly copied albums, pocketing nearly $1.6 million over a six-year period before he was caught thanks to the discerning ears of one fan purchasing an album from punk band the Clash.
Dismayed by the sound quality, the customer sought a refund, then complained to the local consumer protection authorities when Hutter refused.
It was then that the responsible trading standards office purchased two records from Hutter’s online business that turned out to be fakes as well. A search of his premises gave authorities all the evidence they needed to land a conviction.
For his part, Hutter claimed not to have known the records were fake when he procured them from Europe. He was handed a 24-month suspended sentence, escaping imprisonment, and fined almost $464,000.
16 years of continuous revenue growth
LPs have enjoyed a renaissance with cultural influences reaching back to High Fidelity, the 1995 novel by Nick Hornsby that revolves around a London record shop and was later adapted for American audiences in the John Cusack film of the same name.
According to data from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), revenue from vinyl record sales grew 17% to $1.2 billion last year.
Not only did that mark the 16th year in a row, it accounted for nearly three-quarters of all physical format sales.
Vinyl records even eclipsed cheaper-priced CDs in terms of volume, with 41 million units to 33 million—the first time that has happened since all the way back in 1987.
“Demand is now so great that there are not enough vinyl pressing plants to meet demand,” said Martin Thursby from Dorset Trading Standards, the U.K. county branch of the consumer protection board.
“Hutter was aware of the increase in popularity and set up his business to take advantage of that.”