Egypt says it’s stepping up crackdown on copyright piracy after US criticism

Egypt is stepping up efforts to control rampant piracy of copyrighted material, officials said Thursday, after the United States put the country on a watch list of 12 countries that could bring economic sanctions.But police and judicial authorities are deeply understaffed, and government bureaucracy holds up the effort to enforce copyright laws, Justice Ministry officials acknowledged at a workshop on piracy held in Cairo.

“The real problem is in the enforcement for an effective protection of intellectual property rights,” Hassan Badran, a ministry adviser said.

“The picture has changed and the protection improved over the past decade,” he said and added, “but while we have specialized anti-piracy police, we still need specialized judges and courts.”

In April, the Bush administration placed Egypt among 12 countries on a “priority watch list” which will subject them to extra scrutiny and could eventually lead to economic sanctions if the administration decides to bring trade cases before the World Trade Organization.

A 2005 report by International Intellectual Property Alliance, a coalition of seven industry groups, estimated some $72.5 million in losses due to copyright piracy in Egypt in 2004, though that was down from $81.9 million in 2000.

The group called on the U.S. not to enter free trade negotiations with Egypt as along as it fails to enforce copyright laws.

Bootleg DVDs of movies and illegal copies of computer software programs are readily available in Egypt, sold at street stands in Cairo and in computer stores. Books, including textbooks, are regularly translated into Arabic without rights from the original publishers.

Egypt passed a 2002 law penalizing piracy with up to 3 years imprisonment and a fine of around $100.

Mohammed Hegazy, head of the government’s Intellectual Property Protection Office, said his office was organizing a series of workshops to train judges on means to uncover and prosecute piracy. His office will also send out teams to confiscate pirated materials from those suspected of producing them.

“We have started but we haven’t yet reached the required degree of maturity,” he told Thursday’s conference.

Prosecutors at the conference said there were structural problems in pursuing piracy cases. Police, they said, have to send suspected pirated material to the Ministry of Culture to determine if they are illegal copies, but the Culture Ministry employees lack expertise in legal issues and take a long time to report on their conclusions.

Hegazy said an average of 40 piracy cases a day are uncovered in Cairo alone, but few reach the courts because of the delays and backlog.

The Egyptian officials also criticized U.S. watch list as “politicized,” aiming at pressuring the Egyptian government prior to launching negotiations over a free trade agreement.

“Before Egypt’s 2002 anti-piracy law, US placed Egypt on a lower-level watch list,” Badran said. “In my opinion, there are other political dimensions for the issue.”

The watch list was part of a report that the Bush administration is required to provide to Congress each year highlighting problems American companies are facing around the world with copyright piracy, which they contend is costing them billions of dollars in lost sales annually.

Along with Egypt, the priority watch list included Argentina, China, Chile, India, Israel, Lebanon, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela.

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