On Georgian Copyright

Anyone who’s lived in Georgia a while will know that copyright is a gray area, with movies, music and literature readily available for free if you know which site to use, much more so than in the West. But, as with many things I’ve seen in my 12 years here, things are changing and moving towards international standards- copyright awareness and enforcement among them. Looking to find out more, I contacted Gigi Kobaladze, Chairman of the Georgian Copyright Association (GCA).

Established in 1999, the GCA is the sole Collective Management Organization (CMO) in Georgia. The main tasks of the GCA are to sign membership agreements with local right holders (authors of music, works of literature, audiovisual works, performers, etc.) by which they assign economic rights to the GCA; sign reciprocal agreements with foreign CMOs (PRS in the UK, SACEM in France, GEMA in Germany, ASCAP/BMI/SESAC in the USA, etc.), by which the GCA authorizes foreign CMOs to collect remuneration on behalf of GCA members and vice versa; set the tariffs for the usage of copyright and related rights works; issue licenses for the use of copyright and related rights works; collect royalties paid by users; and to distribute royalties to the rights holders indicated in the users’ reports (paying directly to local members and for foreign right holders to the respective foreign CMOs which represent right holders in the report).

“Apart from the main tasks, the GCA is actively engaged in public awareness activities,” Kobaladze tells us. “We often participate in different workshops and seminars, issue a magazine covering copyright topics, and participate in various media activities, like interviews, TV shows, etc. We’re known as a regional leader and example of success in the region.”

He cites as evidence of this success the letters from international umbrella organizations which it is a member of: Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Auteurs et Compositeurs (CISAC), International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO), and Societies' Council for the Collective Management of Performers' Rights (SCAPR).

“An obvious example of success is how the GCA performs its main task- the collection and distribution of royalties. Before the reform began in the organization in 2012, the average annual collection of royalties was approximately 250,000 GEL. Last year, we collected nearly 5,100.000 GEL, which is twenty times more.”

What areas of copyright infringement are most common in Georgia, why do they exist and what laws apply?

The most common infringement types occur in the sphere of music and movies (Audiovisual Works). Most infringements take place online because in the modern world the digital product is becoming more and more popular and this results in massive online piracy. The essence of infringement is using copyrighted work without consent and payment of due royalty. The main law in this sphere is the Law of Georgia on Copyright and Related Rights, which includes all the necessary regulations one has to follow. If the law is breached, the fines are prescribed by Georgian Administrative and Criminal Codes. Administrative and Criminal fines are not very high (from 500 to 5000 GEL); however, Administrative and Criminal procedures are rarely used in practice. The most common practices are civil cases when a right holder goes to court against a user who has not obtained authorization to use the work and has not paid the royalty. The latter is the most effective way of copyright protection.

What is the GCA’s contribution to copyright protection?

Our contribution to copyright protection is limited to our competence, which is prescribed by the law. We have individual cases when individual authors reach agreements with the users of their works only after GCA involvement (consultation, sending letters, etc.). However, when it comes to court cases, we are entitled to file complaints only against users who use copyrighted works and refuse to obtain a GCA license, or who violate the license agreement terms. All the cases are won by the GCA or are settled by the parties.

Tell us about the playing of music in public spaces such as bars, cafes and gyms, where YouTube is often used. Is it legal to do so?

It would be against the law and discriminatory for CMO members to oblige users to choose a specific repertoire, so we issue a blanket license that covers the whole repertoire and users are entitled to use any musical piece they like. As for YouTube or any intermediary, its availability does not mean that business entities can use it for their business. For example, buying a licensed CD means you have obtained the right to listen privately or with your friends and family- you only obtain a physical CD and not the right to use the music. If you are a restaurant owner and you play a licensed CD, play YouTube, Adjaranet (though they are licensed themselves by CMO and even if they were not licensed), play radio, or play live music, this is qualified as a public performance of musical works and you have to obtain a license from the CMO.

Is a subscription method for local sites being discussed as a legal obligation? Are Georgian music and movie sites committing a copyright violation?

Adjaranet, for example, is licensed for communication to the public of music (including music in movies). We do not have the competence to check whether or not Adjaranet obtains movies legally: it is only a right holder that can require Adjaranet or any other website to purchase content legally from them. The situation is quite complex because some rights are administered collectively and, in this case, the CMO (GCA) issues a license, and there are cases when the CMO does not have the competence to require a license. In Adjaranet’s case, the CMO is only entitled to ask Adjaranet to obtain a license for music when it is communicated to the public, but before that, they have to obtain movies legally directly from the right holders or their distributors, which is a process that can be controlled only by the right holders.

If someone reports a violation to you, and considering the current lack of awareness of copyright, does the GCA first give "fair warning" to a business or individual, and give them a chance to obtain a GCA license, or does it go straight to court?

The GCA is not a state body and violations cannot be reported to us because we do not have the competence to impose a fine. Only state bodies have such competence. For example, if someone has their car stolen, they have to go to the police, which is a state body. It means individual cases are managed individually. However, if individual authors approach us about violations, we always try to help them; communicate with the party who violated the law, etc. We go to court on issues which are in our competence – our collective licenses.

What does a GCA license cover for businesses?

We have different types of user segments for different types of business in the sphere of Music, Literature, Dramatic Works, Visual Arts, Audiovisual Works (movies), etc. There are up to 40 segments.

What challenges remain and how can the GCA/the government/society tackle them?

The main concern is online piracy, as it is in the rest of the world. The Georgian government is considering implementing a law on ISP (Internet Service Provider) liability that would help the process of fighting online piracy. On the other hand, the best option is to lead an active educational and social campaign, because raising awareness in this sphere could change users’ behavior and lead to a reduction in the number of infringements.

Happily, Georgian copyright legislation is in full harmonization with the EU regulations and this task was given to our government initially in the EU integration process, including with the DCFTA. Problems are connected not to the legislation as such, but to a lack of enforcement practice and the culture of user behavior.

By Katie Ruth Davies


05 August 2019 16:52