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Bulgaria: Government Aims To Beat CD Pirates

Sofia, 27 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Bulgaria is said to be making decisive progress against illegal producers who manufacture compact discs containing pirated musical material.

Koycho Truhchev, executive director of the Bulgarian office of the International Federation of the Sound Recording Industry (IFPI), told journalists last week that the problem had finally been brought under control because of emergency measures taken by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

These measures include the introduction of a strict licensing system and direct surveillance of CD production lines by Bulgarian police. Truhchev said these steps had succeeded in cutting off the production of illegal recordings, but he sounded a cautionary note by saying that the police presence at factories is too expensive to maintain permanently.

His assurances of progress come amid moves by the United States to impose trade sanctions on Bulgaria because of that country's huge pirate production of compact disks. This activity has earned Bulgaria the dubious reputation of being the second largest thief of intellectual property in the world, after China. The sanctions would be imposed if Bulgaria was to be included in a special U.S. list which enumerates the countries considered serious violators of the rules of copyright.

American officials in Washington are expected to take a decision later this week (April 30) on whether Bulgaria should be included in the list. In November 1997, Sofia was visited by a delegation led by a top official dealing with intellectual property problems at the Office of the US Trade Representative. At meetings with members of the Bulgarian cabinet, this official was very explicit: he warned that if production and distribution of pirate compact disks does not stop by the end of 1998, Bulgaria would become a target for sanctions.

It has been estimated that only 10 percent of the CDs produced in Bulgaria are actually legal, and that in 1997 the production of pirate CDs cost U.S. manufacturers alone some $125 million. The Executive Vice President of IFPI, Neal Turkevitz, said recently that the Bulgarian government knows who the unlawful producers are and where they produce. "There can be no more excuses for not doing anything, he said.

With the threat of sanctions looming, the reaction of the government in Sofia suddenly became more determined. The topic of the theft of intellectual property was prominent in talks in February and March which President Petar Stoyanov held in the U.S., as well as in a visit by Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev to the United Kingdom.

As part of the crackdown, the government of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov set up a special police unit for the protection of intellectual property, under the operational command of the National Bureau for Fighting Organized Crime. With its co-ordinated activities around the country, its aim was to deliver a crushing blow to the pirate producers.

At an Interior Ministry conference last month it was reported that all CD workshops had been closed and the production lines sealed. The government issued an order that those wishing to resume production must have a license. On March 23 the Industry Ministry handed over licenses to the first two companies -- one in the northern and the other in the southern part of the country.

Earlier this month some newly-licensed companies were visited by Ian Grant, an official from the Protection of Intellectual Property section at IFPI. Grant said it's obvious that the Bulgarian authorities are very determined, and he said he's "impressed by the professionalism and commitment" of the law enforcement agencies. He said he believes that with the present level of control "it would be impossible to produce even a single pirate CD.

Bulgarians in general are now hoping that the country wont find itself in the U.S. black list. But many within the local recording industry are also hoping that the international copyright institutions and the western media will give publicity to the positive changes achieved. And they would also like the big international sound recording companies to recognize the skill levels available in Bulgaria, and the advantageous prices which the country offers. Deprived of its massive illegal production, the local recording industry will be sorely in need of work.