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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Pirates Push Artists Off the Charts

KIEV -- Slava Vakarchuk, lead singer with one of Ukraine's leading groups, Okean Elzy, has charmed millions with his delicate tenor and songs that speak of lost love and fate.

His concerts drew tens of thousands devoted fans and albums sell well. Pirates find him irresistible.

"When I am on a tour giving concerts in various cities and towns people come to me after the concert to sign CDs and at least half of them are pirated," said Vakarchuk, seen as one of most popular and successful singers in Ukraine.

Okean Elzy's latest album "Supersimetria" is a bestseller in Ukraine, selling 50,000 CDs and 70,000 tapes in the first three months after release, says recording company Lavina Music.

But it said that sales could have reached at least 350,000 CDs if the level of piracy in the country were lower.

"I am very sad when I look at it," said Vakarchuk after examining two almost identical copies of his last album.

One is legal. The other, with a few bonus tracks, is pirated. The two are sold in the same shops.

Ukraine is considered one of Europe's biggest producers and distributors of counterfeit music CDs, movie DVDs and computer software.

The International Intellectual Property Alliance, or IIPA, a consortium of publishing, film, software and recording industry groups, estimates that piracy in Ukraine accounts for 90 percent of the music industry and 85 percent of films.

The average piracy rate for Eastern Europe is 63 percent.

"The figures are depressing. Piracy is killing Ukraine's recording and music industries. We cannot show anything to the world. Ukraine does not exist on the world's music map," said Andrei Dakhovsky, head of Ukrainian Records.

"These are people who steal CDs and sell them. Ukraine is a big country of pirates. That is all that the world knows about us."

The IIPA estimated that trade losses due to audiovisual piracy in Ukraine stood at $40 million in 2002.

Ukraine also suffers from U.S. trade sanctions worth $75 million a year, imposed in 2002 after Washington identified Kiev as the world's worst abuser of intellectual property rights because it had failed to enforce adequate piracy protection.

Weak legislation and ill-defined property rights are a major hurdle in Ukraine's bid to join the World Trade Organization, which it hopes to this year after more than a decade of talks.

Under increasing international pressure and keen to boost its image abroad the government says it is determined to fight the flourishing bootleg industry. Parliament has passed laws to tighten controls over CD production and to make copyright piracy a crime. Police conduct regular raids to confiscate tens of thousands of pirate CDs.

The pirates have hardly noticed.

A stroll down the cobbled streets in the center of the capital Kiev illustrates it. For just about 15 hryvnias ($2.80) teenagers standing beside towering racks of CDs will sell you the latest musical hits or blockbuster movies.

Ukraine, with a population of 48 million, is a lucrative market for pirates who buy a CD for about 65 to 70 cents.

Ukrainian Records' Dakhovsky said there were about 300 street booths in Kiev alone with an average kiosk selling between 10 and 30 CDs a day. The total value of pirate sales, including exported CDs, is estimated at $150 million, the IIPA says.

Experts said the government had managed over the last year to slow production of pirate CDs on Ukrainian territory but had failed to enforce laws to stop distribution.

"There is no problem any more with production of pirated CDs. But unfortunately, our pirates have stayed. There are some 20 uncontrolled plants in Russia. They just simply order discs there and then sell them here," Dakhovsky said.

The IIPA said that bootleg products imported from Russia, which is the world's No. 2 producer of pirate CDs, are stocked in Ukraine and then sold across Central Europe.