Bulgarian pirates hijack world CD market

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The Independent Online
Five rogue factories in Bulgaria are threatening to undermine the western music industry with massive output of pirate CDs.

The factories are producing 20 million pirate CDs a year, according to the International Federation of Phonographic Industry which is pushing for stronger border controls to stop the Bulgarians' output flooding across Europe.

CDs by the Spice Girls and Celine Dion were stopped entering Finland and Greece in the latest consignments of the Bulgarian pirates, but the IFPI has identified pirate copies of CDs by George Michael, Queen, Eric Clapton, Take That, Elton John, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and even Nigel Kennedy.

The IFPI's director-general, Nicholas Garnett, said: "The sheer size of Bulgaria's illegal CD industry, which is quite disproportionate to the size of the country, has created one of the most serious international piracy problems for the recording industry."

Almost all of Bulgaria's CD output is illegal, according to the IFPI which is campaigning to have the factories closed down, even though two of the factories are sited on land owned by the Bulgarian government.

This week, the British record industry scored its own victory in the battle against pirate CDs when a raid by Oxford Trading Standards officers captured 135,000 CDs worth pounds 1.75m. This is the UK's biggest haul yet, but the British arm of the IFPI, the BPI, believes British pirates are undercut by the Bulgarian factories because of the high cost of blank CDs in the UK.

The Bulgarian CDs are despatched to the Netherlands before being distributed across the Continent. About 10,000 of the CDs were recently intercepted at Dover. The BPI estimates that the UK's pirate music market, which includes cassettes, was worth pounds 19m in 1996.

The Bulgarian government promised in December to act against the five CD plants, but the IFPI said the latest CD tracking technology, called the Source Identification Code, shows the pirate CDs are flowing unchecked into EU markets. Around a million CDs a month flow into Russia from Bulgaria.

Now the European Commission is being asked to intervene - and European Union countries are being urged to step up customs checks to block any more of the fraudulent CDs being exported from Bulgaria.

The IFPI has opened an office in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, but efforts to get access to the five CD plants have failed. "The quality of these recordings is high, but consumers should be concerned because piracy on this scale could threaten the future output of their favourite artistes," said the IFPI's European Affairs director, Frances Moore.