Raymond L. Wiley says emphatically that he never distributed pirated videotapes from Mount Vernon Video during the four years he owned it.
No, he says, he didn't know exactly how the store obtained the collection of popular movies it rented to customers from its location on Read Street in Baltimore. He says his manager took care of that.
But Mr. Wiley says he welcomes a lawsuit filed against him, so he can prove his accusers wrong.
"I definitely want to go to court on this if they want to bring a suit against me," he said yesterday after learning that 11 motion picture studios had filed a civil copyright suit against him in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
The complaint filed last week alleges that Mr. Wiley, during a three-year period, distributed unauthorized copies of 87 movie videos -- from "Above the Law" to "X Marks the Spot."
Mr. Wiley said he is game for a court challenge because his suffering business took a fatal turn when Baltimore police raided the store in November 1990 and confiscated 309 videocassette tapes that investigators identified as pirated copies. He said he sold the store to a creditor four months after the raid.
"First of all, I have nothing to lose and, second, I have questions about whether those tapes were pirated," he said.
But Olga Gikas, a spokeswoman for the Motion Pictures Association of America, said video rental shops should know better. She said illegal tapes, though often well-reproduced, lack official studio stamps and are cheap.
"When these stores are raided, some owners try to play stupid and say 'I didn't know these were illegal tapes,' " Ms. Gikas said from her New York office.
"They know what the prices are. They know what the going rates are. If someone comes from off the street offering to sell a tape for $20 to $50 below the normal price, an alarm should go off."
She said most of the stores selling pirated tapes are small operations, and that no major chains have been involved.
About 5 percent of all video stores rent pirated tapes, she said.
MPAA says the motion picture industry loses $150 million a year from pirated tapes, and it has stepped up enforcement to keep pace with the illegal trade.
It says 250,000 illegal tapes were seized from 461 stores by state, federal and local authorities throughout the nation last year.