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Unauthorized music DVDs are stealth hits

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DVD sales may be slowing, but at least one under-the-radar video niche is actually taking off: the unauthorized DVD music biography. A home-video version of Behind the Music-style documentaries, unauthorized DVD bios are made quickly and cheaply to piggyback on more famous Hollywood releases. Prime example: On Nov. 15, Highland Entertainment released The Unauthorized Biography of Johnny Cash, well-timed to cash in on the release of Walk the Line three days later. Granted, the ”unauthorized” tag lends these titles a somewhat shady aura, which means mainstream distributors pretty much steer clear. But that hasn’t deterred buyers: 2004’s Eminem: AKA and 2002’s Tupac Shakur: Thug Angel have each sold more than 100,000 copies — and this despite a lack of hit songs or extensive artist footage (there is naturally zero cooperation from the musicians or their labels). To wit: The recently released DVD 50 Cent: Refuse 2 Die doesn’t feature, say, ”In Da Club” or interviews with Fitty, although his grandfather and tangential figures appear as talking heads. Still, there’s a plus side to working without the artist’s approval, says the disc’s director, Mike Corbera: ”I’m giving fans the straight dope.”