Bulgarian court acquits suspected pirate

SOFIA, Bulgaria — A Bulgarian court Wednesday acquitted a defendant in the country’s first case involving alleged piracy of compact discs, in which Bulgaria ranks second only to China.

State radio said a regional court in the town of Veliko Tarnovo had rejected the case against Marko Mihailov, 37, manager of a local firm called SMC.

The prosecutor’s office, which had accused him of organizing production of CDs in 1995-96 in breach of Bulgarian copyright law, has two weeks to lodge any appeal.

Stanislava Armoutlieva, representative of Dutch company PolyGram NV, said there had been “some serious gaps in the materials presented to the court.”

She told Reuters: “Despite the outcome, this first case in Bulgaria against pirate CD production was a positive signal, and I hope that the authorities will continue their fight with copyright piracy.”

The Intl. Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has estimated illegal CD production in Bulgaria at 15 million discs a year, costing the European recording industry some $100 million.

The worldwide body has urged Bulgaria to act against five CD plants, which are estimated to supply approximately one in eight of all illegal copies on the world’s CD black market.

The United States put Bulgaria on a “watch list” last October over the issue.

European Union External Relations Commissioner Hans van den Broek, who visited Sofia this week, urged tougher measures to protect intellectual property rights in line with Bulgaria’s duties as a member of the World Trade Organization.

Armoutlieva said police and the National Investigation Service Wednesday raided vendors selling pirated CDs in central Sofia, confiscating a huge quantity of discs.

The Interior Ministry previously conducted nationwide raids in March.

Last year, Bulgarian police investigated more than 200 audio and video producers and distributors, and 83 cases were referred to the prosecutor’s office, but no one has been convicted yet.