With their colorful covers and nylon sleeves, the new supply of CDs and DVDs fills every corner of my city. Selling music, TV series and movies is one of the self-employment professions that has expanded — more and more rapidly — in recent weeks. Everyone wants to have their own distribution point; the most creative offer compilations of the same actor, or the complete discography of a singer. There are no copyright barriers and the American and Spanish serials are the most commonly purchased. Piracy is no longer something whispered in the ears of those interested, rather the merchandise is displayed publicly on makeshift wooden and cardboard shelves. Anyone can wrap up record labels or producers, as long as they don’t cross the line of the ideologically acceptable.
Given the audacity shown in ignoring copyright, it’s striking that no one dares to offer the popular — but banned — programs readily available in the alternative information networks. Absent from the public catalogs are the documentaries — so often watched in Cuban homes — that approach our national history through a different lens from the official. Nor do the shelves in doorways and windows display films that show the situation in the Romania of Ceausescu, or in Stalin’s Russia, or the North Korea of Kim Jong Il. The real hits of the underground world would jeopardize the licenses of these newly minted self-employed. Warning “visits” to the new entrepreneurs make it clear, don’t even think about providing certain controversial materials. The censorship pact is in place.
Beyond the issue of control is that of profitability of these small businesses. When they first started to emerge, the price of a DVD with five movies was around 50 national pesos. Today, in view of the profusion of vendors, it’s dropped to around 30. Many don’t survive the first quarter as independent workers. Others diversify their production and expand their sales. But to stay afloat and become profitable, they will probably need to turn to themes currently banned. In a few months, a good part of them will have, in addition to the visible offerings, another hidden shelf only for trusted customers, to satisfy the restless seekers of the forbidden.