Copyright Pirates Defy Clampdowns in Azerbaijan

Flourishing market in fake products ensures intellectual property rights remain dead letter.

Copyright Pirates Defy Clampdowns in Azerbaijan

Flourishing market in fake products ensures intellectual property rights remain dead letter.

Go shopping in the Azerbaijani capital for a DVD, CD, computer game or item of IT software and the chances that it is a fake are almost ten to one.

Baku’s stories are awash with illegal products, despite the government’s fitful efforts to clamp down on the trend towards intellectual piracy.

The telltale signs of a pirated product are often easy to spot. In one video store in downtown Baku, for example, browsers can buy up to half a dozen music albums or Hollywood films on a single DVD – and all priced at only a couple of manat, about 2.5 US dollars.

The manager says persuading Azeris to buy the authentic material would be time wasted, “If we sold licensed DVDs, we would simply lose all out customers, because the prices for licensed goods are so much higher.

“At least we do out best to make sure our DVDs are good quality.”

According to the country’s copyright protection agency, up to 80 per cent of audio and video products and between 90 to 94 per cent pieces of computer software are unlicensed. Eight out of every ten audio-video tapes sold are said to be pirated copies.

The level of indifference to copyright is the same in book publishing. In this field, copyrights are said to be infringed in 80 per cent of all cases.

Yashar Bakhish, a well-known producer in Azerbaijan, complains that stars of the musical scene and of show-business figures make far less money in Azerbaijan than they should because of the widespread piracy. Musicians, he says, have to earn most of their incomes from live performances.

“TV channels also often violate copyright law by broadcasting audios and videos without the authors’ prior permission,” he said.

There was still no “per minute” tariff system for broadcasting music on television, either.

“The lack of protection of copyright prevents show business in the country from developing further,” Bakhish added.

Those contemplating going to court to stop the pirates can expect to spend years embroiled in legal paperwork.

Trials for copyright infringement cases drag on, Rustam Huseynov, a local lawyer, explained, and cases rarely end in a verdict, or a court-ordered compensation.

“More frequently, the parties meet in the presence of their lawyers to reach an out-of-court settlement, sparing themselves the expense of even going to court,” he said.

Under Azerbaijan law, copyright is granted for the life of the work’s owner or author, plus another 50 years, during which period it can be exercised by the same artist’s heirs.

Only after half a century has passed does copyrighted work become public property. But this is not honoured in practice.

Denis Gekunov, a member of the Society of IT Specialists, says that when it comes to software, the public is either unaware, or just indifferent to the fact that pirated goods are often vulnerable to viruses.

“Companies I’ve worked with often experience problems resulting from virus shield failure because they use unlicensed software,” Gekunov recalled.

The authorities are not standing by. Last month alone, 1,750 pirated DVDs and 270 CDs were seized from Baku stores by Azerbaijan’s state anti-monopoly service in a clampdown.

But economics expert Farhad Omarov says moves like that just scratch the surface. The problem is deep-rooted, linked to a combination of poverty and high material expectations.

“Licensed music and video products, particularly computer software, costs a lot more than pirated copies, and most people just can’t afford them,” he said.

“Given current consumption levels in the country, people cannot change over to using only licensed produce.”

Omarov says that nowadays in Azerbaijan, “only banks and large international companies like BP buy licensed software”.

This was because they depend on or work with markets outside the country, where the purchase or use of pirated produce is viewed dimly.

Azerbaijan has to experience general economic reform – and enjoy much greater prosperity – before it can hope to curb the phenomenon of copyright violation, this expert added.

“We need to overhaul the whole economy, the customs and other state structures,” he continued.

“Only after we’ve done that will we be able to talk about protection of copyrights.”

While the latter exists in theory – Azerbaijan is a signatory to the main international convention on the issue, the Prague Convention on Standardisation, Unification and Copyright - the public remains barely aware of the issue.

“People have little idea of what a ‘trademark’ is,” Omarov noted. “That’s clear from the huge number of cafés, restaurants and celebration facilities, all of which bear one and the same name.”

Eyub Huseynov, head of an independent consumers’ association, agrees that periodical seizures by the police of unlicensed products will not be enough to bring about a real change of attitude.

“Hardly a day passes without consumers complaining to our organisation about the quality of disks they’ve bought, but there’s little I can do about it,” he said.

But Huseynov added that his attempt to involve artists and stars in a scheme to beef up copyright protection met only indifference.

“Not long ago, I came up with an initiative to create a non-governmental organisation that would engage in protecting intellectual property,” he recalled.

“With that in mind, I approached our show business stars and composers. But, strangely, the same artists who until then had been complaining that their rights were being violated showed no interest in joining our efforts against these violations.”

Huseynov said he had not given up hope, however. In February, he attended a seminar on copyright protection in American, alongside members of NGOs from the CIS countries. “We learnt things, exchanged experience and forged contacts with each other. I think we’ll find solutions,” he said.

Apple says it has already found a way to frustrate the software pirates.

The local head of the software giant in Azerbaijan, Ramil Musayev, said the company had now arranged to have its computers sold with the operating systems and software already installed.

But IT specialist Denis Gekunov cautioned against expecting major changes in Azerbaijan, as he says the rapid growth of the internet was undermining the very foundations of copyright the world over.

“The internet is literally stuffed with sites where one can download free of charge films, music and all sorts of software,” he said. “Tracking down all the downloads of unlicensed products is next to impossible.

“One well-known group even launched its new album on the internet, asking fans to pay at least as much as they can afford,” he continued, referring to the Seattle rock band Harvey Danger’s controversial decision to release Little by Little for free online.

“This is a dilemma for the whole world, not only for countries like Azerbaijan.”

Maharram Zeynalov is a correspondent of the magazine 3rd View.
Support our journalists