- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
March 12, 2004

Cultural Theft: Despite laws, artists have little control over piracy and use of their work

Singers Aramo and Emma Petrosyan sold their apartment to produce their first compact disc recording.

The husband and wife duo are among the most popular contemporary singers in Armenia and there is demand for their art. But:

“Up to now, we have made only small profits from sales,” Aramo says.

'Pirates' did not appreaciate the efforts of Aramo and Emma.

The reason is not a lack of sales. It is, rather, a loss of control over their product, due mostly to
unenforced copyright laws.

Even though the singers hold copyright to their material, counterfeit copies of the cds are pirated and sold at a fraction of the cost of the original recording.

“People buy these poor-quality cds without even paying attention to the fact that the cover is just a piece of black-and-white paper copied from the original cover,” Emma Petrosyan says. “Meanwhile, Aramo spent several nights with a designer sitting in front of a computer takings pains and troubles, thinking and selecting between different colors, shades and hues.

“We dedicate our lives to every cd while thieves earn more than we by doing nothing.”

Aramo and Emma are not alone in their disgust over the lack of protection of intellectual property in Armenia and throughout the former Soviet Republics. Research shows their anger is justified.

Foreign experts estimate that in 2002, piracy of recordings in Armenia amounted to about $5 million.

Armen Azizyan, president of the Agency for Intellectual Property of Armenia says 85 to 90 percent of audio, video and computer recordings sold in Armenia are counterfeit copies.

Producer Grigor Nazaryan says a performer can expect to lose $15,000-20,000 from having a recording pirated. For that reason, local artists rely on foreign sales to supplement the loses.

“Within recent years ‘pirates' have become so strong and powerful that they even begun printing high-quality covers and only producers can differentiate the fake production from the original by the quality of the cd,” says Nazaryan.

And the pirating network is well connected.

Rock band “Oascen Ham” produced a cd in France . But before it was even on the market there, band leader Vahagn Papayan found a pirated copy for sale in Yerevan .

Papayan asked the seller where he got the cd. “He said to me ‘Do you think I'm so stupid to tell you where I got it from? Take it or leave it'.”

Artists are convinced their work is victimized by mafia-controlled sources, who are so powerful to avoid prosecution.

Yerevan lawyer Artur Varderesyan says the Ministry of Internal Affairs will soon create a special project for dealing with the piracy problem. (For a few years the government has been promising such intervention, however, little has been done to realize anti-piracy enforcement.)

When buying cds, many people don't pay attention to the quality of covers.

A London-based organization combats piracy in Russia, however, “Armenia is not a threat to the outer world since Armenian pirate production, as a rule, is not exported and is sold in the inside market. That proves the fact that mostly it is the Armenian performers and authors who suffer from piracy,” Azizyan says.

It is not, though, just the copyright thieves who profit from current conditions. Television and radio companies and concert promoters use artists' material at will and typically without paying royalties.

The Constitution of Armenia includes a law “ On Copyright and Related Rights”. During Soviet times, Moscow 's All-Union organization enforced copyright laws. In 1994 the task was undertaken by the National Agency on Copyright. Since 2001, the non governmental organization, Hayheghinak, has monitored copyright matters in cooperation with the Agency for Intellectual Property.

Senior specialist at Hayheghinak, Sona Vardanyan, says Armenian authors and singers are unaware of their rights and acting laws.

“If they were aware, then before recording a song they would sign a contract with the recording studio so that later they don't illegally collect their works in bad quality collections,” she says. “In many cases their songs are used in commercials and they don't demand a fee either because of not knowing the law or because of acting on a ‘friendly' relationship.”

Composer and singer Ruben Hakhverdyan is aware of artists' rights, but is disillusioned with hopes of seeing any enforcement.

“How can I protect my copyrights? Whoever opens his eyes starts singing my songs and I don't get a penny from it. I don't give a damn about such copyrights and such a country,” says Hakhverdyan angrily.

Unlike Hakhverdyan, songwriter Vahan Andreasyan is trying to protect his rights through law, but according to him the laws of the jungle apply more than laws of justice.

“It's been three times that I tired to protect my rights in court but what's the good of it? The weaker one is always guilty,” says Andreasyan.

Many artists working in Armenian pop music genre, in particular Andreasyan, the author of lyrics for Artur Grigoryan's songs, tried to get his fee through the legal system. According to him during 10 to 15 concerts a month at the State Theatre of Song there are at least three or four songs with his lyrics, but it's been 15 years and Andreasyan hasn't received any payment.

“Before, there was no law, so we didn't demand anything. But now that we have these market relations, others started making money on my work, so I demanded my share since I don't know how to feed my family,” Andreasyan says.

Andreasyan's claim against the Theatre of Song ended in a decision in favor of the Theatre. Its director, Artur Grigoryan, presented a letter from the Minister of Culture, Youth Issues and Sport stating that most of the monthly concerts at State Theatre of Song were charitable.

“Without checking, the judge trusted and believed that no concert tickets have been sold and for my works that have been heard there for eight years I was paid 6000 drams (about $10),” says Andreasyan shrugging his shoulders.

Hayheghinak director Susanna Nersisyan says its not easy, even with a law in place, to convince TV and radio companies to pay royalties.

By law, TV and radio stations are obliged to pay two percent of their monthly profit as royalties for material used.

According to the head of Radio Van company Shushanik Arevshatyan, two percent is too much for the company to pay.

“We have agreement with Hayheghinak to pay 30,000 drams (about $50) monthly within several months with presenting a list of songs and authors played during a month,” says Arevshatyan.

TV companies are also not paying the required amount; paying instead about $90 a month for materials.

“However, next year we're planning to increase that sum and to take the legal two percent with the help of which we'll be able to pay the authors fairly,” says Nersisyan.

Hayheghinak divides the money taken from different TV/radio companies according to the presented list. They also take into account frequency and length of songs. Also, due to some mathematical actions approved by law, the sum gets divided among the authors.

“If some refuse to present a list of songs broadcasted by them, then we have no choice but to follow TV or radio broadcasts in order to write down the names of songs and authors,” adds Nersisyan.

Susanna Nersisyan says it's hard to convince TV and radio companies to pay royalties.

Tired of copyright violations composer Hasmik Manaseryan complains that she gets nothing in return for so many of her songs played. She recalled that only once “three years ago I was called and told that as composer I have to receive 800 drams ($1.5) while during Soviet years I would make a lot of money.”

Composer Hasmik Manaseryan says she gets nothing for her work. However, she is not so upset with the fact that she does not get her fees as with the fact that her works are played in a distorted way.

“So often I hear my songs performed by this or that ungifted singer, who doesn't even know what and whose song he or she is singing,” says Manaseryan. “For instance, one singer performs the song ‘Who Do I Give My Flowers To?' in a terribly changed manner, let alone the fact that in the video, for some unknown reason someone gets killed, somebody else calls ambulance… In a word the song is spoiled and the video does not correspond to it.”

Besides singers, film producers are also unhappy with current conditons.

Movie director Albert Mkrtchyan points out with anger that on December 7 last year his movies were shown eight times on Armenian TV channels, and he cannot tell the number during other days.

“My movie ‘Merry Bus' is right now being sold in Germany , the US , Greece , without any right on that. But I am the owner of that movie. You trouble yourself over it, shoot a movie and then someone you don't know makes money on it. It's impossible to prevent that piracy,” says director Albert Mkrtchyan.

The same displeasure is expressed by movie director Ruben Gevorgyan according to whom an artist gets terribly discouraged and desperate when something created from his blood, his life and his soul is being negligently shown, no matter if it's appropriate or not. “And we find out about it not in case of a fee, but in case when there isn't any.”

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Flying High

In anticipation of this weekend's visit by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, workers put up flags on Mashtots Avenue in Yerevan. At first, Armenian and Georgian flags were placed, but the Georgian ones had to come down when it was discovered that the design was wrong.



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