With the war in Ukraine on the border, a separatist region to the east, and inflation at 35%, the former Soviet republic of Moldova was granted EU candidate status last summer. But the new copyright law, designed to protect artists under strict EU standards, is plagued by corruption. Meanwhile, local artists are not remunerated, writes the international press.
Just days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko appeared on television.
Showing a map of Ukraine divided into four parts, the Putin ally turned his attention to Moldova, sparking fears that the former Soviet republic could be next on Moscow’s list.
A month later, Moldova applied for EU membership. In June 2022, EU leaders granted Moldova candidate status, noting that its reform agenda must continue until EU conditions are met.
Harmonization of copyright law with that of the EU
According to the 2014 EU-Moldova Association Agreement, Moldova had to reform its copyright law to meet EU standards. An EU assessment published in early 2021 identified many areas requiring attention (pdf).
According to an EU statement from January 2022, the State Agency for Intellectual Property of the Republic of Moldova (AGEPI) responded with a new project that fully transposes nine EU directives and four EU directives in part.
The EU went on to stress the importance of ensuring transparency and balance “within the system governing the remuneration of authors and performers in a weak bargaining position”. The establishment of “an effective system” of collective management of copyright and related rights was also mentioned.
AGEPI “Working against copyright holders”
Last June, in an open letter, addressed to the government on behalf of more than 650 members, the state-approved collective management organizations the National Copyright Association (ANCO) and the National Association of Producers and Performers of Phonograms (ANPFI) expressed their indignation. Accusing the State Agency for Intellectual Property of Moldova (AGEPI) of corruption, working against rights holders, and misleading the government, the groups described the revised draft copyright law as “absolutely incompatible” with Moldova’s candidate status for EU.
On behalf of the members, including artists, composers, and performers, ANCO and ANPFI asked the parliament of the Republic of Moldova to postpone the approval of the project until the reports of the international experts can be reviewed.
Concerns were growing that the draft undermined artists and collective management groups while giving “excessive powers” to the head of AGEPI to “solve all key issues” related to collective management.
The law was already approved
On July 3, 2022, ANPFI revealed that the law was approved in a government meeting on June 22, and on July 1 in the first reading by parliament.
“Unfortunately, in the last 5 years, AGEPI has acted only through attacks against authors, copyright holders, and related rights, manifested by illegal decisions issued by AGEPI, which were later considered illegal even by the Supreme Court of Justice”, said the group.
“Following these attacks, the National Anticorruption Center/Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office started a criminal investigation into the illegal acts of the decision-makers within AGEPI. AGEPI’s competence in the field of copyright and related rights has been found by the courts and qualified as a violation of the legal order”.
CISAC asks the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova not to adopt a law
In a subsequent series of published articles and open letters, including those addressed directly to the Prime Minister, ANPFI accused AGEPI of being “intoxicated with forgeries, manipulations, and corruption”.
On July 6, 2022, ANPFI forwarded to the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova a letter sent by the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), a global network of 227 collective management societies representing four million creators.
The full letter can be read here, but suffice it to say that CISAC was not impressed with the project.
Concerns were growing that the draft undermined artists and collective management groups while giving “excessive powers” to the head of AGEPI to “decide all key issues” related to collective management.
Following ANPFI’s requests to the President of the Republic of Moldova, the US Ambassador to Moldova, and the European Union, a closed government discussion on July 27 led to the adoption of the new copyright law of the Republic of Moldova a day later.
ANPFI warns of new competition from outside Moldova
With the law set to take effect in the second week of October 2022, ANPFI accused AGEPI of organizing foreign-backed copyright management organizations to operate in Moldova.
According to ANPFI and reports published at the beginning of the year, these organizations receive support from RAO (Russian Society of Authors) and VOIS (All-Russian Organization of Intellectual Property), which ANPFI accuses of benefiting from similar arrangements in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.
It is unclear whether these claims were investigated, but on October 9, 2022, the new law was officially published by the government of the Republic of Moldova without any changes.
In order to operate legally under the new law, ANPFI and ANCO were required to reapply for their status as authorized collective management organizations. The same would have applied to any new applicants, but if there were any approvals, they have not yet been reported.
Consequently, in the Republic of Moldova, there does not seem to be any group for collective management of copyrights. The country continued to listen to the music, of course, but since no group received official approval, the artists do not earn any money when the music is played on the radio, on television, in public places, or anywhere else. Even when people make copies of songs under the private copyright exception in Moldova, no one gets paid.
With a smooth transition under the new law impossible from the start, AGEPI’s latest move appears to have turned artists’ rights into a right to be thrown in the trash.
AGEPI ignores ANPFI and ANCO
After carefully examining the provisions of the new “Copyright and Related Rights Law”, adopted in October, the head of the State Agency for Intellectual Property of the Republic of Moldova (AGEPI) determined that ANPFI and ANCO did not meet the specified standards.
As a result, the work of ANCO since 2013 and that of ANPFI since 2019 came to an abrupt end last week, when AGEPI terminated its status as collective management organizations.
“The decision was issued in accordance with the provisions of the new Law on copyright and related rights, which entered into force on 09.10.2022”, reads the AGEPI announcement.
“We remind the associations interested in approval as a collective management organization (which have legal personality, are being registered in accordance with the provisions of the legislation, and are based in the Republic of Moldova), about the need to cumulatively fulfill the conditions provided for in art. 84 para. (1) from Law no. 230/2022 on copyright and related rights.”
“Three months after the entry into force of the new law, not a single public association has received AGEPI’s approval to operate as a collective management organization”, says the president of ANCO, Liviu Stirbu.
“This means that the scope of copyright and related rights exceeds the legal framework, and any use of musical works on radio and television is illegal.”
The law of the Republic of Moldova was introduced to ensure “a high degree of protection for authors and holders of copyright and related rights”.