Piracy Bill Clears Hurdle in Duma

The State Duma on Wednesday tentatively approved a bill overhauling legislation on intellectual property rights and toughening penalties for piracy to six years in prison.

The bill, Part 4 of the Civil Code, is part of a Kremlin bid to squash Western criticism over the widespread piracy of DVDs, software and other goods as it seeks to bring Russia into the World Trade Organization.

But legal experts and lobby groups criticized the 400-page bill as messy, incomplete and against the interests of copyright holders.

Presenting the bill before the vote, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said its main accomplishment was to strengthen the rights of authors.

He said it did so by, among other things, specifying for the first time which intellectual property would be protected, including works of art and literature, scientific research, patents, trademarks, computer programs and electronic databases.

The bill also grants rights for know-how and to brands that are not used in Russia. It would forbid newspapers and magazines from publishing photographs of people without their consent, in an attempt to shield celebrities from paparazzi. And special protection would be extended to software and scientific research ordered by the federal and municipal authorities.

"This is being done for the first time, and I think it is very important because it will allow the most important work made for the state to be separated from all others," Medvedev said.

In addition to the new maximum prison term of six years, tougher penalties would allow authorities to confiscate equipment used to produce fake goods and close down the businesses that allowed pirates to operate on their premises. Current penalties carry prison terms of up to five years and the confiscation of fake goods, not the equipment.

Critics said better enforcement of intellectual property rights was needed, but that the bill was not the answer. The bill, designed to replace all existing laws on intellectual ownership and to bring order to the largely disorganized copyright arena, would lead to separate federal laws governing copyrights and related rights, patents and trademarks being concentrated in a single document.

Peter Necarsulmer, president of the Coalition for Intellectual Property Rights, said it was "extremely disappointing" that Medvedev rejected a Duma deputy's suggestion to send the bill for review to the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization, of which Russia is a member.

"If the authors are so certain that their document is good, they should have no fear of this review," he said.

"I am not aware of any single respectable international intellectual property rights organization that has endorsed this," he added.

Another representative of the Coalition for Intellectual Property Rights, Olga Barannikova, warned that small changes in terminology set in the bill would translate into the transformation of the entire law enforcement system.

Nikolai Belousov, a lawyer who helped draft the bill, said the end result failed to take into account the interests of copyright holders. The bill appears to favor the rights of authors over those of copyright holders.

"Part 4 of the Civil Code was born in the depths of the presidential administration," he said. "Businesses were not invited to participate in [its] development."

He said the current version of the bill would not work because it did not spell out several key themes, including what constituted a violation of intellectual property rights.

Konstantin Zemchenkov, director of Russian Anti-Piracy Organization, complained that the Kremlin had been so eager to draft the legislation that it had not sought the advice of copyright holders. He said his group had favored a shorter, framework document of 40 to 50 pages.

Dmitry Sokolov, director of the Non-Commercial Partnership of Software Suppliers, noted that the bill would cement Internet domain names as objects of intellectual property rights -- a distinction not made by any other country's law. The novelty would contradict trademark norms, he said.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the Duma's Legislation Committee, insisted the bill was balanced and suggested it was being misinterpreted by critics.

"There is nothing revolutionary in this bill, and it only brings order to messy legislation," he said in an interview after the bill was easily approved.

Medvedev also said many critics had not read the bill.

Deputy Galina Khovanskaya, an independent, spoke against the domain names provision, saying it could affect the work of some non-commercial Internet projects.

Rodina Deputy Mikhail Markelov said the provision should be removed altogether when the bill came up for vote in the second, crucial reading. The vote is expected later this fall.

"I am sure that 90 percent [of the deputies] have no idea what a domain name is," Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, told the Duma.

He also said the bill contained many foreign words and terminology that would be unfamiliar to law enforcement officials.

It was unclear how intellectual property rights would be protected during the transition period.

If signed into law, the legislation would not take effect until 2008, Krasheninnikov said.

Deputies have 30 days to submit amendments before the second hearing, he said.

Tougher penalties might provide a new incentive for market vendors to switch to licensed goods.

Sergei, a vendor selling pirated DVDs for 100 rubles each at the Savyolovsky market, said he and other vendors were growing wary after frequent police raids and other "tough pressure" from the authorities.

"We'll switch to the licensed stuff by year's end," he said of his kiosk. "Everybody wants to work in peace, pirates or not."