Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian dictator, has signed a new law to allow the piracy of movies and music from rightsholders in ‘unfriendly’ countries.
The law allows imports from any country of goods protected under intellectual property law without requiring permission from rightsholders.
A new constitution in Belarus led to democratic presidential elections that saw Alexander Lukashenko emerge as the country’s leader. Today, Lukashenko is still in power due to several landslide electoral ‘victories, a similar referendum to lift presidential term limits, and support from Vladimir Putin.
Lukashenko, in 2021 ordered the hijacking of Ryanair Flight 4978. The United States took action and charged Belarusian officials with aircraft piracy. Belarus’ dictator has another type of piracy in his mind, resulting in further isolation on the international stage.
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Belarus Needs Access To Foreign IP
Belarus, like Russia, relies on the intellectual property owned by foreign rightsholders who are unable or unwilling to supply it. To ensure legal access to pirated movies and music, as well as TV shows and software, the government created a new law restricting intellectual property rights.
The House of Representatives (lower) adopted it on December 20, 2022. On January 3, 2023, the Council of the Republic (upper house) signed the provisions into law by Lukashenko.
New Law Legalizes Audiovisual Piracy
The law “On the limitation of the exclusive right to objects of intellectual propriety” targets rightsholders and collective management licensing organizations representing multiple rightsholders.
These may be from countries that “commit unfriendly actions” against Belarus. If they are “which prohibited or did not consent” to the publication of lawfully licensed intellectual property in Belarus, their rights to specific product classes will be restricted.
Belarus will not require permission from rightsholders for content to be used there.
The law covers computer programs and audiovisual work, such as movies, music, and TV series. According to the document, the law covers film distribution, cinema organizations, and broadcasters.
Belarus is a signatory of several important intellectual property treaties administered under the World Intellectual Property Organization. None of them are known for their tolerance for state-sanctioned pirates.
Unlicensed Content Users Must Pay
The new law, which effectively gives exclusive rights to those affected, states that individuals/entities using unlicensed/pirated material must pay remuneration directly to the National Patent Authority-owned bank accounts.
All funds transferred to these accounts will be kept for three years starting at the date of credit. This allows rightsholders to claim any money that is legally theirs. Belarus will retain its money if they fail to comply.
The text states, “After three years, the remuneration not demanded by the right holder or the organization for the collective management of property rights will be transferred by the Patent Authority to the republican budget within three months.”
While it might seem like a “better-than-no” deal to deprive rightsholders of all rights, except the right of getting paid, this assumes that foreign rightsholders will get paid.
This new regime will likely mean that rightsholders won’t be able to set a market price for their content. Unknown factors by the lower house of the Belarusian parliament will determine the market price.
Even if it is assumed that foreign content users will declare their use to the government in writing, Belarus requires that rightsholders reimburse the Patent Authority for its accounting and management expenses. Although the authority cannot deduct more than 20% from the collected funds, it has the right to spend these deductions on anything it chooses.
What if Belarus charged full market rates for movies, music, and software? Could rightsholders agree to that?
As we mentioned, the Patent Authority can pay the money to rights holders. According to the Belarus National Center of Intellectual Property, the Patent Authority has a bank account with Belarusbank Minsk. Both the government and the bank are subject to sanctions.
The new law also includes unlicensed parallel imports “to create conditions to increase the internal stability and economic growth” and “preventing or decreasing a critical shortage on the domestic food market.”
Parallel imports that contain or include items protected by intellectual property law will be exempted from permission from rightsholders. This is true for both friendly and hostile countries.
If rightsholders from “friendly countries” cooperate with Belarus, In that case, it is a legal requirement that they only suffer “critical shortages ….of these goods in their domestic market”.
The law will come into force this week and remain in place until December 31, 2024.