: Digital piracy in Ukraine: people steal because they don't understand it's crime

09:50 Jun. 15, 2016

Digital piracy in Ukraine: people steal because they don't understand it's crime

An unidentified Ukrainian man reviews a street stand with bootlegged CDs and videos in Kyiv (AP Photo)

Kyiv struggles to overcome copyright infringement as 82% of all software in the country is illegal, ranking Ukraine among top 10 for piracy

Latest Star Wars installment, newest Windows operating system or your favourite video games – these digital goods cost at least several hundred dollars in the West. In Ukraine, however, everyone can get all of that completely free of charge – by illegally downloading the applications from the various torrent trackers, operating in the country.

Piracy strives in Ukraine. According to the latest researches, 82% of all installed software in the country is pirated. For many years Ukraine has been placed on the American Priority Watch list, among the top 10 states for copyright violations.

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Ukraine's biggest file-sharing service continues to work despite a criminal investigation, conducted in 2012

And while everyone expects the local authorities to fix the problem, it prospers within the government itself. According to the U.S. report, Ukraine's state agencies massively use illegal software in their work.

"The overall piracy rate in the government remains unacceptably high, at 60-80 percent", stated in the Special 301 report, published in April 2016. 

Experts say, the situation with the intellectual property rights (IPR) damages Ukraine's reputation and finances. Ukrainian budget loses hundreds of millions of dollars every year. The piracy also prevents foreign investments from flowing into the country. And many famous international companies refuse to work in Ukraine, until the problem is fixed.

According to the analysts, there are several reasons the copyright infringement is so strong here. For example, the prices of the software remain relatively high compared to the average salary in Ukraine. But the key issue is people's mentality.

"How can I pay so much, when I'm not rich? Why should I pay for something I can get for free?" - the answers you can typically get from Ukrainians after they are asked about moral grounds for piracy.

To address this issue and raise copyright awareness, the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine organised a special event. Artists, businessmen and government reps were invited to discuss the potential ways to improve the situation.

"It's the same as saying that cars are expensive, so let's go steal a car. This is a high-value product and it should be fully defended. It's a culture, we need to understand this is the wrong way to go," says Andy Hunder, the President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine. And his position is echoed by the copyright holders themselves.

Hunder talks on the copyright infringement in Ukraine in details

"People can't even imagine, when you download a movie from the Internet that this is a crime", says local filmmaker Lybomir Levitsky.

Levitsky has had his fair share of losses, caused by the piracy. He directed several movies in Ukraine in the past 10 years. All of them were immediately pirated and distributed online as well as sold on the CDs. The filmmaker tried to fight for his rights and even organised raids along with police to confiscate the bootleg goods, but his struggle wasn't successful. The unauthorised sellers were only charged a small fee, which wasn't nearly enough to stop the illegal trade.

When asked what kind of punishment he would like to see for the violation of the IPR, Lybomir immediately answered "jail".

"For the first time you can pay, but the second time it's jail. People need to see the consequences. If we don't have the consequences, we have no fear and we see no law", Lybomir said.

But while Ukrainian law actually suggests criminal responsibility for copyright violations, the courts are reluctant to send people to prisons. The wrongdoers are mostly penalised or given a suspended sentence. So software developers are forced to take matters into their own hands.

"We created software which automatically monitors the usage of our materials by other websites, and informs the owners of these websites and the Internet service providers of the violations of our intellectual rights. And the results have been solid so far as most of our illegally used materials have been removed", says Vyacheslav Miyenko, the deputy head for legal matters at the Ukrainian 1+1 TV company.

To further combat the piracy the 1+1 channel along with several other major Ukrainian media organised a special platform called Clear Sky in 2013. It offers other websites to legally use the materials, created by the members of this platform, completely free of charge, but on special and negotiable terms.

Another goal of the platform is to cooperate with the government and discuss the ways to improve the currently flawed and inefficient law system.

"The question is about the enforcement part, the police part, which have to collect the proper documents and prepare the proper cases, and second we need to add a couple of new laws to protect the intellectual property on the Internet", explains Nadiia Vasylieva, the General Manager of Microsoft Ukraine and the Responsible Board Member of the Chamber IPR Working Group

Vasylieva shares her thoughts on what should be done to prevent the IPR violations in Ukraine

Vasylieva adds, the content of these laws are a subject for lengthy discussions between business groups and the government. The dialogue is ongoing, but the first draft law on the IPR is expected to be considered by the Ukrainian Parliament in the nearest future. The country's Cabinet of Ministers has proposed to force websites to remove illegal content within 24 hours at the direct request of the copyright holder, and without any permission from the court.

Another step Ukraine has taken in the IPR field, is establishing the cyber police, which will be responsible for controlling the illegal software market. The law enforcers, who are currently undergoing training process, have already declared the piracy to be their top priority.

And that is no surprise, considering that the IPR is also a part of Ukraine's agreement with the European Union. The E.U. is urging Ukraine to solve this issue quickly and efficiently. According to Nadiia Vasylieva, Brussels expects Kyiv to take all the necessary measures to combat piracy till the end of 2016. Europe says, overcoming the copyright infringement will inevitably lead to a healthy investment environment in Ukraine and will help the country's economy grow.

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