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Bulgaria: Government Measures Curb CD Pirating

Sofia, 15 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Bulgaria's senior copyright official says progress has been made toward stopping the illegal pirating of music compact discs in his country.

But Emil Lozev, head of the Copyright Department at the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, said there are still serious problems in bringing CD counterfeiters to justice.

Lozev told RFE/RL this week that "the pirates are very ingenuous and always attempt to stay one step ahead of law enforcement agencies".

In the early 1990s, Bulgaria achieved notoriety because of its flourishing production and trade of unlicensed audio and video material. As many as 10 plants making counterfeit compact discs operated in the country, producing tens of millions of CDs a year. A fraction was sold domestically while the overwhelming majority was exported to Western Europe, and to Russia for redistribution around the world. Bulgaria was said to be second only to China in CD piracy. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), a music industry anti-piracy watchdog, said production had been taking place under the previous government at state-owned plants controlled by the Culture Ministry as well as at private firms.

The European Union warned Bulgaria that its failure to enforce international copyright treaties could harm its bid for EU membership. Both the EU and the United States warned of trade sanctions. Under pressure from western governments and the IFPI, Bulgaria in 1996 adopted new copyright legislation that the IFPI said was among the most comprehensive in the world. But the previous government did little to enforce the legislation, and the dubious business continued to flourish.

The current right-of-center government of Ivan Kostov has taken matters more seriously and the Interior Ministry has introduced emergency measures to curb the trade. Lozev, of the copyright department, told RFE/RL that he is aware of just three functioning CD-production lines in Bulgaria at the moment. He said their total capacity is 40 million CDs a year (of which less than one percent is meant for domestic distribution). Police have made spot checks on what the plants are doing, and have confiscated illicit material. However, Lozev said police presence at these factories is too expensive to maintain permanently.

Lozev said that his office tries to "ascertain whether any producer really holds the copyright." But he says his department does not have policing powers.

The IFPI says enforcement of Bulgaria's strict legislation continues to be a problem. And some Bulgarian officials say the problem is not so much with detecting and intercepting illegal production, but with bringing the smugglers and producers to justice. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that "in some cases (the copyright department does) a good job, the police do a good job, the detectives do a good job, but the case falters in court because the legal system is extremely corrupt." He said "some of the most powerful economic groupings in Bulgaria have engaged in this business and they have the money to buy anyone, including the magistrates."

However, Lozev says pirate CD-production and illegal sales have largely been brought under control. He said that is because it was relatively simple to install police at the factory. He said that "the bigger problem ... is with other copyrighted material such as cable television." Lozev said that currently, there are dozens of cable operators in Bulgaria and the ratio of licensed to unlicensed ones is one to three. In Sofia alone, Lozev said, there are three big cable operators working without a license. He said all of them carry western European and American programs and none pay copyright fees.

In the West, it is up to every customer to buy a decoder and pay a fee if they want to watch a film. But in Bulgaria, some cable operators have a decoder at their offices, which successfully decodes movies for thousands of subscribers to watch. Lozev said that piracy of TV programs, films and computer software will grow as a copyright violation issue in the near future.