Serbia to adopt ACTA for EU membership: Official

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As a new candidate for EU membership, Serbia will have to adopt the controversial ACTA agreement if the bloc ratifies it. Official statistics show that software piracy in Serbia remains higher than in any EU member. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

?Assuming the EU and its member states ultimately ratify the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA see background), Serbia will have to follow suit as it will have become a full part of EU law, said Branka Toti?, director of the Serbian Intellectual Property Office.

Toti? dismissed fears that ACTA could lead to infringement of citizens rights, privacy and data protection rules, arguing that national implementation and judicial review of cases of suspected copyright violations would guard against this.

“Therefore, I believe that there is no risk,” she said.

More generally, Toti? said that Serbia must harmonise its laws with the regulations of the EU by 2013 and reach a level of protection of intellectual property that is similar to that in member states.

She said Serbia’s laws in the field of protection of intellectual property are mostly in line with the EU legislation, but that more has to be done in their implementation.

Unlike the EU members, Serbia does not have specialised courts to deal with intellectual property and  court proceedings last about two years, and sentences are often suspended.

“One is of an impression that, although the law envisages strict penalties for the crime of unauthorised use of copyrighted materials and brands, sentences pronounced are lower than for stealing physical, material goods,” she said.

?Piracy declining in Serbia

Serbia has a significantly higher rate of illegal software use than the EU, even compared with the members from Central and Eastern Europe, where it is relatively high.

For the first time in three years, Serbia’s software piracy rate has dropped, Toti? said. According to estimates of the Serbian Tax Authority, the rate illegal software use, which was 74% in the previous three years, dropped by two or three percentage points in 2011.

“Naturally, this is not satisfactory either, but it is a large move forward. According to some statistics, a one-percentage point reduction of piracy in the field of software leads to the opening of 1,200 new jobs,” she said.

The piracy rate in the EU in 2010 was 35%, according to figures of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), a lobbying group representing numerous information technology companies including Adobe, Apple and Microsoft.

The highest rates of illegal software use in the EU were Bulgaria’s and Romania’s at 65% and 64% respectively.

?Seizure of goods

Toti? said that the customs authority had particular success in preventing the entry of counterfeit goods onto the Serbian market, while results of controls on the internal market are modest because inspection services are often burdened by other work.

“Last year, 150,000 pieces of pirated and counterfeit goods were confiscated at the border. This is a very large number and testifies to the fact that our customs bodies have done the job well and that 10 years of work have truly yielded results,” Toti? said.

She indicated that one problem is the porous character of the border with Kosovo. Kosovo, Toti? said, is a channel for the entry of counterfeit and pirated goods from China and Turkey that are sold in Serbia as well as other European countries.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have made even administrative cooperation difficult.

Serbia was formally accepted as a candidate for membership of the European Union at the last European Council summit of 1-2 March. Neighbouring Croatia, also former Yugoslav republic, is set to become the EU's 28th member on 1 July 2013.

A lengthy process of negotiation will take place and Serbia will have to implement considerable reforms to adapt to EU legislation.

The EU and 22 member states have signed the controversial ACTA agreement, but its ratification is in doubt as protests have been held across Europe citing concerns regarding privacy and data protection.

?If ACTA is ultimately ratified, Serbia too will have to adopt the agreement as part of its general obligation to conform to European standards of intellectual property rights.

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