Polvos Azules

Posted on August 18th, 2011 by

Welcome to Polvos Azules (blue dusts/powders), the treasure chest of the informal market of Lima. Make a voyage through the corridors of millions of “original” items: navegate the sea of Nike shoes bathed in white light, plunder Barcelona fútbol jerseys at 20 soles, unearth the Rosetta Stone or the Pirates of the Caribbean series, next to the pirated CD stand. Prices are negotiable, but you need to know how to haggle.

Some of it might be lost shipments or legitimate purchases of originals….but the most of it is an imitation. Most any imitation will be cheap. Some things are more difficult to fake; video game consuls are originals that have been “fixed” to take pirated games. These and many other electronics are probably more expensive than in the U.S., but you save money on the discs that they play. Every now and then, law enforcement comes in and symbolically raids the place, making a show of burning the contraband. It’s considered a normal part of the business; Polvos Azules gets out their backup storage and is up and running the next day.

“Stop right there!” says Copyright Man, brandishing the lawsuit of justice. “This is pure piracy, and that’s illegal! Artists deserve royalties for the fruits of their labor. What about intellectual rights to their creativity?”

The problem is that for many people in Peru, it’s not affordable to pay full price for many electronics, movies, CD’s, and name brand clothes. Prices on a lot of things (food, public transport) are lower here than in the U.S., but so are wages. So a reasonable price in U.S. Dollars ($15 movie, for example) converts to being very expensive in Peruvian Soles.

And here’s where we come to a philosophical crossroads. Do intellectual property rights override people’s desire to improve their quality of life? If anyone has a miracle solution for the economic inequalities of the world, so that everyone can pay full price, it’s welcome here. Otherwise, I don’t feel that it’s my place to say “You’re wrong to want to have movies, you’re wrong to want to listen to music, play video games, and wear name brand clothing.” Though my friend Sawyer brings up an interesting point: “where should the societal values of the locals lie? With material goods that do nothing but mimic what they think affluence is? Or with something more substantial and meaningful?” How much does Polvos Azules improve people’s life, or is it just another face of materialism?

In defense of Polvos Azules, a lot of work goes into the making of the items there, even if the ideas and designs aren’t always original. It generates money that stays in Peru. It’s an impressive system of distribution: so many things concentrated in one market, in a big city. Probably skipping a lot of the ridiculous markup of commercial distribution, definitely skipping the markup/tariffs of imports.

I’m a white male middle-class college student from the U.S., privileged enough to have the privilege to study abroad here. Did I mention that this is a privilege? I can afford, every now and then, to purchase original music and movies. So if I’m able to support artists that way, is it right for me to buy a pirated DVD at Polvos Azules? My personal leaning is that it’s probably better to buy the original in respect of copyrights. I say this gingerly, because I do not want to see this as a situation of “I have enough money to do the right thing.” In the end, I didn’t buy anything. I was more fascinated by the ethics than by the merchandise itself.


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