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Russia/Bulgaria: U.S. Anti-Piracy Campaign Tags Russia, Bulgaria

Washington, 2 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. has refreshed its global campaign against the piracy of films, CDs and computer programs, adding Russia to its top "priority watch list," along with ten other nations including Greece and Turkey.

At the same time, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has kept Bulgaria and 35 other nations on the lower "watch list" of countries with significant violations of international intellectual property protection standards. Bulgaria will be reviewed "out-of-cycle" in December to see if promises Sofia has made about cracking down hard on flourishing piracy industries are carried out.

The lists are part of the annual review of intellectual property rights protection around the world, conducted by the USTR under a U.S. trade law known as "special 301."

The law sets up the special watch lists and other devices to allow the trade representative to impose sanctions on nations which do not conform to international norms.

Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky says there has been "substantial progress" globally in improving intellectual property protection in the last year. While more needs to be done, she says there has been progress in Bulgaria, Russia, Turkey, and some others.

Russia continues to take steps to address American concerns, says the report, but "serious problems remain, including insufficient progress in improving copyright protection and enforcement." It says Russia was elevated to the priority list largely because it still fails to meet international standards in giving protection to preexisting copyright works produced before 1974.

"We recognize increased Russian enforcement efforts," says the report, "but piracy remains widespread."

Turkey and Greece were kept on the priority list because both continue to have "inadequate intellectual property laws and enforcement efforts have been ineffective," says the report.

The situation in Greece is bad because of television stations broadcasting U.S.-owned movies without authorization and payment, says the USTR report, and Washington threatens to initiate World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement proceedings if Athens doesn't do something by July 1.

The U.S. says it will institute WTO procedures against Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and Ecuador soon because these countries have not implemented a special WTO pact on intellectual property rights -- known as the TRIPS agreement -- dealing with civil copyright law.

Bulgaria, which has long been noted for flourishing industries in pirate CDs, films, videos, and computer programs, has implemented a "substantial portion" of the commitments it has made to shut these factories down and prevent further piracy, says the report. The U.S. specifically applauded Bulgaria's recent passage of a decree covering CD-ROMs for computer software.

Still, it kept Bulgaria on the list, promising the early review to "ensure implementation" and that "enforcement efforts are improved."

Poland was also kept on the watch list for another year. The report says that while enforcement in Poland has "steadily improved," piracy remains a problem. The U.S. also objects to Poland's copyright law which protects sound recordings, both Polish and foreign, back only to 1974. The world standard is 50 years for preexisting works.

While not on one of the lists, several other countries are noted under "observations," including Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary and Romania. The problems for most of these revolve around specific violations of the standards, says the USTR report. In Romania, the U.S. says that after a good start, Bucharest is relaxing its efforts and piracy is returning. In the Czech Republic, the problem is also lagging enforcement.

The head of the Motion Picture Association, Jack Valenti, applauded the report, saying it is "an essential weapon in the war against worldwide piracy and market access barriers."

Valenti particularly praised the USTR for putting Russia on the priority list, saying the film industry lost "more money to piracy in Russia than in any other nation last year, over $300 million lost in video piracy alone."

The International Intellectual Property Alliance, a global group of publishers, movie studios, computer software producers, music publishers and recording companies, says piracy loses are huge -- totaling over $14 billion in 1995. It says that 13 percent of those losses, or over $1.8 billion worth, occurred in East and Central Europe and the nations of the ex-USSR.