WTO accession will slash pirated software

  • 2001-03-29
  • Geoffrey Vasiliauskas
VILNIUS - Last week the Lithuanian Parliament adopted an agreement with the World Trade Organization on intellectual property and new threats to authors' rights from digital technologies.

The agreement, part of the WTO agreement on patent and copyright protection known as TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), protects the rights of authors to their software and database creations.

It also attempts to foresee methods to protect those rights under new and emerging conditions, namely the easy avenues the Internet provides for copying and distribution.

Rolandas Pavilionis, the former rector at Vilnius University turned politician and chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament's education, scientific and cultural committee charged with conducting hearings into the issue, said the agreement would stop the use of pirated software in Lithuania.

"We had to ratify the agreement we signed with the WTO. Thirty other countries, including our neighbors, have already made the step. This is part of our becoming a member of the civilized community," Pavilionis told The Baltic Times.

He said ratification was a matter of honor for Lithuania first and foremost.

He pointed out that in the past not all people and organizations in Lithuania could afford to buy legal software, but that Lithuania was becoming more civilized, and this was a step in that direction.

Asked whether everyone in the Parliament uses legally obtained software, Pavilionis said "I would like to believe that."

Asked whether he knew where to obtain illicit software in Vilnius, Pavilionis said, "I don't know, but I believe it wouldn't be hard to find out."

The Baltic Times decided to see how hard it is to find black market software products for sale in Vilnius.

The best-known venue for pirated CDs is a Saturday market held close to Gedimino Street in an otherwise unused building.

Examination of the racks and boxes of CDs revealed a number of seemingly pirated music discs and just as many computer games, but almost no commercial PC software products.

A vendor speaking on condition of anonymity told The Baltic Times they had rid themselves of all software application products recently. He said the police are currently cracking down on illegal copies of Windows and other popular pirated products.

"We've had problems with the police," he said reluctantly. Asked whether they were targeting illicit music CDs, he said no. He also denied there had been any new campaign against stolen software, and told The Baltic Times where to find the latest versions of Microsoft products.

The place he mentioned, a mere 10-minute walk away, offered an array of the latest versions of Windows, Microsoft Office and other products in English and Russian for home computing enthusiasts, as well as computer games of all kinds. The price was 25 litas ($6.25) per disc.

Reliable sources revealed many legitimate purveyors of computer software and hardware also sell pirated software on the side, so long as the customer does not appear to have law-enforcement connections.

The Baltic Times also learned of establishments in Vilnius that copy CD-ROMs, no questions asked, for 5 litas to 10 litas.

The Microsoft Web site for Lithuania, www.microsoft.lt, contains a section for "legalizing" software. Visitors are told the benefits of using legal software, including software support services and peace of mind.

"You can be sure no one will punish you" for using legal software products, the Web site proclaims.

Microsoft has never initiated a serious anti-piracy campaign in Lithuania, fearing the move could backfire in the emerging Lithuanian computer market and drive customers to competing manufacturers.

Lithuania completed formal agreements for WTO membership earlier this year and President Valdas Adam-kus signed the final documents in Davos during the economic summit there. The Lithuanian government has pledged to finish ratification by May 1. Once ratification is complete, Lithuania must wait another 30 days to become a full member of the international organization.