28 April 2008
Continuing Intellectual Property Piracy in Russia Raises Concern, April 28, 2008
(Russia’s World Trade Organization membership may be at stake)
Washington -- Russia has taken new steps to challenge intellectual property pirates, but must implement even tougher enforcement measures if it hopes to gain membership to the World Trade Organization in 2008, according to a new report by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).
“The United States will continue to monitor to ensure that Russia moves to implement a variety of legal and law enforcement improvements to which it committed as part of a bilateral agreement with the United States on Russia’s accession to the WTO,” USTR said in releasing its annual Special 301 report to Congress. “Implementation of these commitments remains essential to completing the final multilateral negotiations on the overall accession package.”
Russia was one of nine countries designated as “priority” in the report, which outlines the adequacy and effectiveness of intellectual property rights protection in countries throughout the world. While trade law allows the United States to retaliate against countries discriminating against U.S. products and services, the White House has favored continued negotiations, and for priority countries, this means intense bilateral talks throughout the year until changes are made in intellectual property rights regulation and enforcement.
The report also lists 36 countries on a lower-level “watch list” meriting continued U.S. attention over the next year. Among these countries were Belarus, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. However, improvements in Ukraine got it bumped from last year’s “priority” list to the “watch” list, and Lithuanian gains in intellectual property rights enforcement got that country removed from all lists in 2008.
The report states that U.S. copyright industries lost an estimated $1.4 billion in 2007 as the result of piracy in Russia. USTR said that the production of optical discs far exceeded domestic demand and that some of the pirated discs were being produced for export.
It further said that weak enforcement against piracy and counterfeiting “remains a serious problem.” USTR said that while some raids by Russian authorities have been conducted on optical disc production facilities and retail sites, prosecutions remain sporadic, and the courts regularly fail to impose high-enough penalties to deter rights violators.
The Special 301 report lists several other Eastern European and Central Asian countries as needing further improvements in intellectual property protections.
The report states that Belarus’ intellectual property laws do not allow police officials to initiate criminal copyright cases or customs officials to seize illegal products at the border. And the law does not provide for search procedures that are necessary to protect against end-user software piracy. The report particularly highlights problems related to sound recordings and pre-existing works.
USTR hailed Ukraine’s legislative initiatives and enforcement against pirate optical disc manufacturing, pointing out that “no evidence of pirate manufacturing has been detected in several years.” But USTR said that the country needs stronger border enforcement to address transshipment of illegally produced optical media, and its courts have to impose sentences that act as effective deterrents to the pirates. It said government ministries must move to ensure that only legal software is used.
USTR cited some legislative progress in Tajikistan to protect intellectual property rights, but said that its copyright law still does not provide protection for sound recordings or pre-existing works. The report said the country has a weak enforcement regime, particularly among customs officials in their ability to stop the release of suspected materials at the border, and the country lacks adequate criminal penalties for rights violations.
Turkmenistan, according to the report, lacks both copyright law and criminal procedures or penalties for intellectual property rights infringement, as required by a bilateral trade agreement with the United States. To date, it is not party to international agreements to protect artistic and literary works (Berne Convention), phonograms (Geneva Convention), and Internet protection treaties negotiated under the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Although Uzbekistan has passed copyright protections and begun to close down shops selling pirated materials, no protections exist for sound recordings, and enforcement against producers of illegal materials or at the border is weak. These issues will be factors in continued negotiations with Uzbekistan on its bid to become a WTO member and in review of Uzbekistan’s status for tariff-free treatment for certain goods under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences, the report says.
“The Special 301 Report spotlights one of the central challenges facing the global economy,” U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said, in releasing the report. “Pirates and counterfeiters don’t just steal ideas. They steal jobs, and too often they threaten our health and safety.”
The full report can be accessed on the USTR Web site.