Russia closer to WTO entry

Fighting piracy part of agreement

An agreement between Washington and Moscow that would allow the world's second-largest pirate haven into the World Trade Organization appears to contain strong protections for copyrighted material.

U.S. authorities said Friday that they have initialed an agreement with Russia on that country's entry into the WTO, which they planned to formally sign next week in Hanoi.

"It is a clear indication of Russia's efforts to participate fully in and benefit from the rules-based global-trading system," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said. "We came close to completing our work in July but needed more time to conclude a strong commercial agreement that will be of benefit to both our countries. Russian (Economic Development and Trade Minister German) Gref and I hope to sign the agreement in Hanoi."

WTO membership carries with it numerous favorable trade provisions for countries in the organization. The motion picture, recorded sound and software companies have all been critical of Russia's lack of respect for intellectual property.

"In the past few years, Russia has become home to both the greatest concentration of optical disc plants producing pirate CDs and DVDs and to some of most notorious pirate Web sites, such as AllofMP3.com," RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol said. "For far too long, Russian government indifference to the protection of intellectual property has permitted open theft from the U.S. as well as many other countries. This indifference has clouded Russia's international reputation as well as its economic development. We are hopeful that today marks a turning point in this story."

Russia is No. 2 on the MPAA's list of pirate nations, behind China. MPAA member companies lost $266 million to piracy last year in Russia alone, with losses topping $1.3 billion during the past five years, according to the studios.

Russia's domestic market apparently is saturated with pirate DVDs, with piracy estimated to be at more than 80%. Russia has been under extra scrutiny by the U.S. government because of intellectual property theft for nine consecutive years. During this time, the number of optical disc plants producing illegal material has grown exponentially — from two plants in 1996 to 47 as of January, the MPAA said. Almost all the optical disc plants raided in 2004 and '05 remain in operation, with plant owners unscathed by the criminal justice system, the association said.

"We are cautiously optimistic that this bilateral agreement also addresses MPAA's long-held position that Russia's copyright laws and enforcement systems must be consistent with the substantive and enforcement provisions of the WTO (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) Agreement before Russia is permitted to accede to the WTO," MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said. "Russia's commitment to international trade rules and obligations is of critical importance if Russia is to be successfully integrated into the global trading system, and we look forward to learning the details of the agreement."

According to an outline of the deal, released by the U.S. Trade Representative, Russia agrees to:

A "binding blueprint" for actions to address piracy and counterfeiting and improve protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights before Russia completes its accession to the WTO;

Set deadlines to take specific actions, enact laws by specific dates, to fight optical disc piracy and Internet piracy, tougher criminal penalties for intellectual property crimes, strengthen border enforcement, and bring its copyright legislation into line with international norms; and

Commit to fully implement the TRIPS Agreement and other intellectual-property related international agreements upon accession, and to ensure that any changes to its existing legislative regime for copyrighted good will comply with international law.
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