CD rentals in the Czech Republic - bound to be shut down eventually?

28-12-2005

A report this year by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry says a full one third of music CDs sold in the Czech Republic are illegal pirated copies. Yet at the same time it is possible to rent CDs in the country for around one euro a day, which would seem to make a mockery of international law. How is that possible? And does the communist past influence Czech attitudes to copyright today?

In the centre of Prague - next door to the Stock Exchange and across the street from a police station - is the biggest of a number of CD rentals in the Czech Republic. This is not a library but a business offering tens of thousands of titles, including all the recent releases. It costs half the price of a new album to join, and for 1 euro you can rent a CD for 24 hours. And take it home and burn it - the rental also offers a colour photocopying service and blank CDs.

The owner refused to be interviewed and was even quite threatening, but I did get some other opinions.

Miroslav Wanek: "My heart says it's great, but my brain says it's bad!"

Miroslav Wanek is the leader of Czech rock group Uz Jsme Doma. Eight of his albums are available at the CD rental, but he has mixed feelings on the issue.

"From one point of view, as a musician, as an artist, I'm glad about that, I'm glad about copying CDs, I'm glad about spreading the art. But of course the other point of view is that if nobody pays for music the label will not release more albums, because they will have no money to produce it."

Under communism often the only means of "distribution" of a lot of music was copies made and passed on between friends.

"All music before the revolution I got like a carbon copy of something, usually from the radio, from Radio Luxemburg, or some copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. It was almost inaudible when you heard it!"

Ivo Pospisil used to be a rock musician but now runs a Prague music shop. He thinks some people still think music isn't something you have to pay for.

"They said under communism that whoever didn't steal from the state was depriving his family, and that attitude has survived till the present day. People here just don't get the idea of author's rights.

"I must admit that CDs cost the same here as they do in more advanced countries, so people can't really afford them. But renting is still wrong and it's destroying music shops and music in general."

But how, I'm sure you're wondering, do the CD rentals get away with it? Well they claim they are "clubs of CD owners", with every member a part-owner of all the titles.

As I say the owner of Prague's biggest rental refused to be interviewed, so can't offer his own explanations. But here's what Petra Zikovska, director of the Czech branch of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, thinks of the "club of owners" argument.

"It's obviously a way of going around the law, it is finding ways to excuse their own illegal behaviour. According to the Czech copyright law act to rent CDs you should have an agreement with the producers, performers and authors. So you should have their approval. If you don't have their approval then it's illegal. It's obvious."

It may seem obvious, but in that case why haven't rentals been shut down? Ms Zikovska says her organisation has been helping music labels fight the practice for some years. She is optimistic the courts will eventually rule against it.

"I hope it will be closed based on the decision of a civil court. The copyright owners are claiming damages and they are fighting to shut down those operations. So I hope the court decision will be in our favour and it will be solved soon."

I spoke to your predecessor four years ago and he said CD renting wouldn't exist in two years. It still exists - will we have CD rentals in the Czech Republic in five years' time?

"(laughs) I don't think we will. I hope not personally and I think it is not likely to be like that. I hope not."

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