Digital Rights in Bulgaria

Over the past decade, Bulgaria has without doubt made great strides to rid itself of the image that it was one of the worst offenders worldwide against intellectual property, but has it done enough?

Bulgaria is no longer a routine fixture in the Special 301 report, the influential document drafted every year by the US trade department examining the “adequacy and effectiveness of intellectual property rights” in other countries.

In recognition of Bulgaria’s progress, two Cabinet ministers recently received awards: Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov from US ambassador to Bulgaria James Warlick on April 26, World Intellectual Property Day; and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov on April 27, as part of the signing ceremony of a memorandum of co-operation with the International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and distributors union of business software.

Yet, as far as some copyright protection groups are concerned, Bulgaria was not doing enough.

IFPI executive vice president and regional director for Europe, Frances Moore, who attended the signing of the memorandum in Sofia, singled out the country as the worst offender in the European Union, claiming that 60 per cent of all software in Bulgaria was pirated.

The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), an umbrella group of seven US associations of content providers, went as far as to suggest in 2009 that the US trade department should put Bulgaria back on its Section 301 watch list, a move that the report’s authors make when “particular problems exist in that country with respect to intellectual property rights protection, enforcement or market access for persons relying on intellectual property.”

The latest Section 301 report, issued in April 2009, did not feature Bulgaria, meaning that the US trade department had no major criticism of Bulgaria’s efforts in copyright protection.

It remains to be seen to what extent IIPA’s recommendation will carry weight with the US trade department in the 2010 Section 301 report, given IIPA’s track record of controversial suggestions, which included a recommendation made in February that the next report should censure governments recommending the use of open source software because “it fails to build respect for intellectual property rights”.

But according to Moore, Bulgaria needed to amend its legislation, requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to “police” their customers and ensure that customers did not use pirated software, music and films. If ISPs failed to do so, they would be warned and then fined, Moore was quoted as saying.

Moore’s suggestion went even beyond the measures suggested in the draft Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the proposed global treaty on intellectual property pushed by the US, which initially envisioned cutting off internet service for customers caught downloading copyrighted works (the “three strikes” principle of denying access after three warnings), but did not require ISPs to do the monitoring themselves.

The first draft of ACTA, made available to the public on April 21, dropped the “three strikes” provision, which was rejected by the European Parliament in March. Moore’s suggestion would appear to run counter to the European Parliament’s reasoning, which said that any “closing-off of an individual’s internet access shall be subject to prior examination by a court”.

The European Parliament has a track record on the issue, having overwhelmingly rejected a revision of EU telecom rules because it contained a “three strikes” provision, championed by France, in May 2009.

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