BREAKING GEORGIA'S ADDICTION TO PIRATED GOODS
For years, Georgian consumers have been inundated with black market goods. Now, however, intellectual property right activists, private companies, and the government are advocating for change.
Anyone with an internet connection in Georgia knows a host of computer programs, movies and music are all just a click away - even blockbusters that haven't made it to the Tbilisi movie theaters are available, for free.
A change in mentality
But a new push to strengthen copyright protection is underway in Georgia, and artists, authors, advocates and government agencies are all working to break the country's addiction to pirated goods.
It is not an easy task.
For years, Georgians have grown accustomed to not paying - or not paying full price - for nearly everything from music to computer virus protection programs.
Giorgi Oniani, the deputy CEO at Asseco Georgia, the local arm of a global software production and development company, noted that changing Georgians' reliance on pirated computer programs and other goods boils down to changing the mentality in society.
"I would say that this ncessitates an important change in the mentality of people and the perception on IP rights. It should be clearly understood that intellectual property rights are no different from property rights on a land or a house and, though being intangible,they are indeed a result of a hard work of a large number of individuals over a lengthy period of time. And this should be paid for."
It is not just foreign artists and producers who are losing income: Georgian musicians, writers, composers and producers are also losing earnings on their creative property.
The soloist of the band "Vakis Parki," Zaza Khutsishvili, states that he had been the first musician registered in the Association of the Authors'Rights of Georgia in 1995 but that didn't stop the wave of pirated disks from his music.
Copyright advocates like Giga Kobaladze are hoping to change that.
Kobaladze, now the head of the Association of Authors' Rights of Georgia, has been working to increase the number of members - and the effectiveness of the association. In the beginning of 2012, there were just 536 artists in the association; by the beginning of 2013 there were already 741.
The effectiveness of the association has also increased: over the span of 12 years, from 1999-2011, it collected just 257,000 lari in royalties. In 2012 alone, however, the association collected 239,891 lari.
Part of the association's work is informing authors and artists about their rights: it publishes a guide outlining authors' rights, how to protect themselves from violations and how to receive royalties for the use of their intellectual property.
Creating the laws that protect authors
In addition, the association provides legal assistance for its members when their rights are violated.
Kobaladze noted that the association is working with artists to protect their rights at home and abroad. For instance, a song by Georgian composer and singer Kakha Tsiskaridze - an arrangement of the folk dance "Gandagana" - has been used in trailers without his permission.
While internet sites having a license on procurement of products pay an honorarium to authors, pirated sites and non-licensed sites create hurdles too high for the association to tackle alone, Kobaladze said, stressing that the government also needs to be involved.
In Georgia, violating intellectual property rights is a crime but stops short on some areas of protection, Kobaladze said - for instance when someone, like a restaurant, profits from the use of unlicensed music.
The government is working on improving the law, however, as Georgia moves toward signing its Association Agreement with the EU, noted Iraki Ghvaladze, the head of the Georgian National Center of Intellectual Property Rights, SakPatenti.
"When we talk about the Agreement on Association with the EU, one of the key requirements after conclusion of the document is to comply with authors' rights," he said.
Tackling piracy and pirated software
One of the major pushes is to address the issue of pirated computer software.
"We all know that there is a large black market of software in Georgia. In a daily life you would hardly find a person around you who would not be using unlicensed software in his private or professional life. There are even companies which sell computers with already unlicensed software installed," Asseco Georgia's Oniani said.
"This is a huge problem and something needs to be done with this. And it should be a synergy of private and public sectors. Only through united efforts can we achieve the desired goal," he said.
Oniani noted that things are improving.
"According to my observation the situation is gradually changing and this, I would say is among other factors conditioned by the fact, that using unlicensed software deprives the user of the support services by the vendor," he said.
Support services, Oniani added, are becoming more important as users require newer versions of software to improve performance - and also guarantee security from cybercrime.
Ghvaladze noted that there are some sectors - like banking - that only use legal software. In other areas, he said, the government is planning to resolve the problem "centrally" by providing for the legal procurement of software.
"The Georgian government is conducting negotiations with the corporation Microsoft concerning delivery of licensed software," he said.
Oniani noted that it is a "process" to change consumers' habits.
"This is a process, a change process - and it always takes time. However, the thing is that once it is started, there is practically no way back," he said.
"It is hard to convince an individual to start paying for using the same software which she is used to using without paying a penny. I would say it is a matter of culture, ethics, and along with the processes which I mentioned above that are happening around us right now, I believe, this is just a matter of time; sand inevitably the culture of paying for software we use will be as habitual for us as we pay for a hamburger we eat."
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