4 August 2013

Bulgaria’s ambassadors receive ban to use Facebook


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Image: Borys Tarasuk and Kristian Vigenin together with Gerben-Jan Gerbandy
by European Parliament on Flickr

Borys Tarasuk and Kristian Vigenin together with Gerben-Jan Gerbandy

The smiling gentleman to the right is Kristian Vigenin – Bulgaria’s current minister of foreign affairs.

Recent media reports say he has directed all ambassadors of the small eastern European republic to refrain from using the most popular social network.

“Why is that?” one might ask and the answer is quite simple – for the last 50 days Bulgaria has been facing the largest anti-government protest since January 1997 and statements posted on Facebook show that some of the ambassadors side rather with the #ДАНСwithme participants than with their employer.

In other words, Vigenin’s instruction is nothing but a gag order on Bulgaria’s diplomats abroad and speaks volumes about this government’s preference to deal with plurailty of opinion and public criticism.

23 May 2012

Bulgaria´s Competition Watchdog Says Misappropriation of Images is Passing Off


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This is the title of a blog post I wrote for The Reguligence Website, which is my newly launched professional website.

I suggest you take a look at it, should you care to know about the role of Bulgaria’s Commission on Protection of Competition and why it is important also in terms of intellectual property protection.

25 April 2012

Bulgarian TV Station Accused Of Censorship


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Some two weeks ago, bTV which is held to be the largest TV station in Bulgaria, broke with Global Vision, the producer of one of bTV’s most successful shows called Gospodari Na Efira (Masters of the Airwaves in English).

At breakup

Global Vision gave a press conference

in which they alleged that bTV attempted to censor the show they have been producing.

A copy of the press conference’s broadcast was uploaded onto YouTube and remained accessible – according to statuses of Facebook users – until it was taken down today.

The awkward thing

is that not only did YouTube take down the video, but they also terminated the account of the user who had previously uploaded it.

The image I have put on the top of that blog post evidences of what I am telling you.

As you can see, YouTube reasons the take-down and termination with multiple third-party notifications of

copyright infringement

obviously filed by the bTV Media Group.

That is really awkward. No, it is rather disappointing.

It is so obvious that

bTV are abusing their copyright

if any, in order to gag the guys from Global Vision and the user’s freedom of expression.

YouTube’s “Sorry about that.” underneath the notice does not make good the damage.

I would be glad to support the user, whose account has been unlawfully terminated, in filing a counter-notice and restoring both, the accessibility to the video and his subscription to YouTube’s service.

9 February 2012

ACTA: First Debate In the Bulgarian Parliament


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Image: Ministers Traikov and Rashidov talking to each other during the parliamentary hearing on ACTA. By Konstantin Pavlov – Komitata

Bulgaria was one of the 22 member states to the European Union that signed ACTA at a recently organised ceremony of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo.

This very act

managed to attract great interest in the public

and to cause a huge societal debate.

Following a week during which the media nearly overexploited the issue, four committees of the Bulgarian Parliament summoned the ministers Vezhdi Rashidov and Traicho Traikov to a hearing.

The hearing occurred yesterday and was well visited by right holders´ organisations as well as by representatives of the non-governmental sector and the civil society in general. Being one of the latter, I attended the hearing too.

Needless to say that while

the Bulgarian right holders´ organisations endorse ACTA

the representatives of the civil society are more or less strictly against it.

By the way, I made big efforts to broadcast the hearing on Twitter and you might want to visit my stream, in order to see who has said what in greater detail.

My impression from yesterday´s event is that GERB – Bulgaria´s currently ruling party – endorses the trade agreement too and is willing to execute the necessary parliamentary ratification.

By the same token, however, the government is aware of the

public animosity towards ACTA

and is ready to make the ratification conditional upon some reservations mainly with respect to the digital enforcement.

I hope that yesterday´s hearing was just the beginning and that many others will follow. I might get the chance to participate in a working party to deliver an expert opinion to the Parliament, but shall in any case remain focused on the matter and make information available on that blog!

17 November 2011

Where Pizza Meets Haute Couture


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Saw this one yesterday in downtown Sofia and could not resist to take a picture and blog on it.

Later I was somewhat surprised to find out that Escada had obtained a Bulgarian registration for their trade mark already in 2003.

Could there be room for a sound dilution claim based on Art 4 (3) of the trade mark directive?

13 June 2011

Europe’s Annual Report On Bulgarian Telecommunications – An Example Of Finger-Wagging


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Image by World Economic Forum on Flickr

374711646_6f66bdc42d_zI know she is no longer the European Commission’s iron lady responsible for Information Society and I found it a pity when she took over the justice and fundamental rights resort.

Nevertheless, the Information Society‘s 2011 report on the Bulgarian telecommunications market bears her style and, when you read it, you can nearly perceive her wagging finger. So I chose to use her image as a story opener.

Going back to the report,  I could identify three important areas of Commission’s criticism.

Let me start with the

Mobile Termination Rates

While the mobile termination rate („MTR“) levels fell down to 6.65 €-cents per minute for peak traffic and 5.64 €-cents per minute for off-peak traffic in 2010, they still exceeded the EU peaktraffic average of 5.46 €-cents by 22%.

The practice of exempting calls originated outside the territory of Bulgaria from MTR regulation became a major issue of complaints to the European Commission since it led to higher termination charges for international incoming voice calls.
While the Bulgarian national regulator, the CRC, considered this market situation to be consistent with its notified market analysis, the European Commission urged the CRC to remedy the issue by uniformly enforcing regulated MTR levels to all types of calls irrespective of their origin.

Number Portability

The CRC announced the introduction of a one-stop shop procedure for all types of number portability as of 6 August 2010, which also made operational non-geographic number portability.

In effect, customers can submit a single application only to the receiving operator. According to the new procedure, the period to port a single number has been reduced to 7 days (10 days for a non-geographic number of the 700, 800 or 900 range or a group of geographic numbers), compared to the EU average of 7.7 days for fixed and 4.2 days for mobile numbers.
The wholesale charge for porting a single number amounts to € 9.2 (€ 15.9 for a non-geographic number), and a discount of 30% applies when porting a group of at least 500 numbers. A retail charge may be levied by the receiving operator, yet this has not become common practice.

In reality, however, the one-stop shop procedure shows flaws and that results in a comparably low amount of ported numbers – according to the CRC only 139 377 mobile numbers (1.38% of all mobile subscribers) and 60 337 fixed numbers (2.5% of all fixed subscribers) have been ported until the end of January 2011.

Consumer Protection

Do you remember the issue with the automatic prolongation of the individual contracts between consumers and mobile operators?
Well, that together with the number portability troubles became the major topics of the about 1 700 consumer complaints lodged at the CRC.

It is funny, but the CRC did not attempt to enforce an adequate consumer protection by undertaking legal proceedings against the mobile operators  – something to which the CRC would be empowered by law. It attempted to merely persuade the operators instead. This is very likely the reason why the European Commission has made the brief and politically correct statement that

With the endorsement of the CRC, all mobile operators have indicated their consent to remove automatic prolongation clauses from individual contracts.

A large portion (about 460) of the complaints on number portability (about 1000) referred to the new one-stop-shop procedure. Due to technical problems with M-Tel’s billing system delivered by Amdocs, many mobile customers experienced problems with incorrect invoices and inadequate service provision.

Further complaints referred to issues with the scope of universal service (in particular fax), availability of telephony services or invoicing.
The CRC has issued 340 penalties to operators, out of which 168 on number portability.

Wrap-Up

All in all, Bulgaria’s MTR remain among the highest in Europe, the number portability is making only a slow progress, if any, and the regulator is not capable to warrant an adequate consumer protection.

No wonder why the report is a finger-wagging towards Bulgaria.

21 April 2011

Information v Defamation: ECtHR Rules Against Bulgaria


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Europe zone, Strasbourgphoto © 2008 Stephen Colebourne | more info (via: Wylio)

As early as 1992 Bulgaria acceded to the Council of Europe.  The accession meant not only the acceptance of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), but also Bulgaria’s submission to the jurisdiction of the European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR), the authority serving as the last resort against violations of the rights protected by the ECHR.
Since its accession, Bulgaria has been found liable for violating human rights in a large number of cases. As of yesterday the number of cases rose by two more (courtesy to Dr Lehofer for sharing this information).

In its very recent judgments in Kasabova v Bulgaria (application no. 22385/03) and Bozhkov v Bulgaria (application no. 3316/04) the ECtHR found that Bulgaria had violated Article 10 (freedom of expression and information) of the ECHR.

The Facts

The cases concerned the complaints of two journalists. They had reported on alleged bribes in the admission procedure to specialised secondary schools in the city of Burgas. As a consequence, the journalists were found liable for defamation and were made to pay huge sums in compensation for their statements made in articles published in the Bulgarian press and directed against four administrative experts involved in said admissions.

As you can see, the cases are driven by the conflict between two fundamental human rights: the  right to freedom of expression (and to inform the public) of the journalists literally clashes with the  right to privacy and reputation of the four  experts.
In its

Judgments

the ECtHR had to strike a (fair) balance between these fundamental human rights.

While the ECtHR acknowledged that the allegations made by Kasabova and Bozhkov had been difficult, if not impossible to prove and that, their journalistic research had shown some flaws, it nevertheless held that the sanctions imposed on the journalists had been excessive, disproportionate when compared to the damaged reputation of the four experts and had thus had huge potential chilling effect. Consequently, there has been a violation of Article 10 ECHR.

In the outcome, the Court found that

Freedom Of Expression Outweighed Privacy

A shock to the system for the Bulgarian media sector. Why?

Well, the majority of the Bulgarian media is considered largely tabloidized and owned by anonymous proprietors. This often results in publications that are clearly false and even defamatory.

Even though the Criminal Code penalizes defamation, so far only very few authors of defamatory materials or owners of publicizing media have been successfully charged, convicted and sentenced.
Kasabova and Bozhkov seem to be among those few.
Should this ruling of the ECtHR be interpreted as a carte blanche to journalists writing defamatory materials? I hope not!

On the other hand, it is an open secret that many Bulgarian journalists work under threat or undue influence. For instance, Freedom House designates Bulgaria as merely partly free in terms of press and media in their 2010 report (select country).

No doubt, threatened journalists would clearly benefit from above judgments.

All in all I would agree with the ECtHR since it does not say that journalists should not be punished, if they write defamatory materials. It says that the punishment should not be excessive and disproportionate to the damage the defamation has caused.

What do you think?

12 April 2011

Bulgaria: Freedom Of Information Or Purposive Opaqueness?


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This is a screenshot of Bulgaria’s commercial register’s website.
The interesting thing about it is that anyone (to the extent he or she can navigate in Bulgarian) may access it and search for company related information.
No other restrictions.
Well, not exactly as soon there will be some.
Owing to a current legislative initiative the register is very likely to compete with below info column in terms of free and transparent information access.

Freedom of Information?photo © 2006 Ian Parkes | more info (via: Wylio)

Believe it or not, but this initiative is driven by a political party holding the name

Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (link)

Whether in an attempt to create an association with their party’s name or not, but said party’s representatives reason and defend the planned restrictions with “well-proven and tested European practices”. As one may expect, they still owe a detailed explanation as to what practices they have meant.

Mrs Iskra Fidosova (MP), chair of the justice committee and advocate of the restricted access.

It’s the data protection, stupid

This move would halt the more and more frequent cases of abuse of personal data, explained the guy below.

Mr Emil Radev (MP), proposer of the initiative.

However, according to the Access to Information Programme (AIP), an NGO, there is no actual proof that such abuses have increased after the introduction of the register in early 2008.
Not only this, but AIP stresses on the importance of the register for the purposes of journalistic investigations. The latter is of a particular relevance since the vast capital invested in Bulgaria during the last decade is considered of unclear provenance.

Whose data privacy

do the Bulgarian politicians care for?

Maybe for that of the mysterious 26-year-old entrepreneur whose one-month-old company allegedly enabled him to spend some 162 Million Euro on the bankrupt steel plant Kremikovtzi?

 

Did you find this article informative or helpful? If yes, do not forget to share it by pressing one of below buttons or to otherwise tell your friends about it!

25 June 2010

Do not misappropriate the law, guys.


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Locked books. Courtesy to presscafe.org

It has been a long time since I wrote my last posting related to Bulgaria. During the last days, however, a police campaign or even a raid directed against the online content provider www. chitanka.info (chitanka meaning an alphabet book in Bulgarian) achieved a huge medial attention and, particularly, that of the Bulgarian blogosphere. While the police claimed a success over a group engaged in “Internet piracy”, journalists and bloggers saw an attack against the knowledge society in Bulgaria.

What was the problem in the first place?

Chitanka.info had digitised numerous printed books and made them available on the Internet to the world at large. In legal terms, chitanka.info had copied and adapted (mainly literary) works and subsequently communicated those to the public. On the grounds that, the foregoing acts represented acts restricted by copyright law, publishers and right owners’ associations argued that chitanka.info had infringed the copyright in the works, because they acted without the consent of the respective copyright owners. Apparently, these very right owners instructed the police to raid chitanka’s premises and to seize the equipment hosting the arguably infringing materials.

 

Top police investigator Yavor Kolev seizes one of chitanka's servers. Courtesy to bnews.bg

The operators of chitanka.info raised several defences, some of which were legal by their nature and some that were not. Regarding the latter they argued that their offering addressed school kids and thus served to satisfy primary educational needs. They further argued that some of the books they offered to download represented sold-out editions, not re-published since then and thus no longer available in bookstores. Eventually, they stressed on the misery reigning in public libraries and on the fact that today’s consumers demanded an online access to books, but publishers yet failed to (legally) satisfy this demand. Chitanka.info’s legal defences grounded on Art 24 (9) of the Bulgarian Act on Copyright and related Rights (Copyright Act) and on the fact that their offering was merely altruistic as it did not depend on a payment.

I would like to focus on chitanka.info’s legal defences in this posting. Art 24 deals with the free (fair) use of works for which users neither need tot obtain the copyright owners’ consent nor owe they any payments in connection with thei use of those works. Subsection 9 of this Article regards – as the Bulgarian and hence legally binding version of the act calls them –  the “publicly accessible” libraries. Please observe that the English translation of the act accessible via the link above refers to “public libraries”. This ostensibly unimportant distinction, displayed by the translation and of later relevance, might prove decisive for chitanka.info’s case.

To the best of my knowledge, neither the Bulgarian Copyright Act nor other legislation in force in Bulgaria defines the term of a “publicly accessible” library. By contrast, the Bulgarian Public Libraries Act delivers a definition of the term “public library”. Accordingly, a library needs to comply with certain requirements set out in Art 8 of said act, in order to be deemed a “public library”. There is no doubt that chitanka.info does not comply with those requirements. The Public Libraries Act was, however, delivered in 2009, whereas Art 24 (9) of the Bulgarian Copyright Act was last amended in 2005.

The issue suggests a few logical questions:

  • What did the lawmakers have before eyes when they drafted the Public Libraries Act?
  • Did they consider the “publicly accessible” libraries as mentioned in the Copyright Act, and
  • Are public libraries to be equated with publicly accessible libraries at all?

Depending on the answer of these questions, there might be following solution approaches:

  1. The terms public library and publicly accessible library are identical. Since chitanka.info does not qualify as a public library it likewise fails to qualify for the limitation under Art 24 (9) granted to publicly accessible libraries.
  2. The terms are not identical and the lawmakers did not intend to curtail the limitation under Art 24 (9) to only public libraries. Moreover, the limitation should apply to any library that is publicly accessible. Chitanka.info would then qualify for the safe harbour provided by Art 24 (9). Public libraries would qualify as well as they are by their definition “publicly accessible”.

It will be up to a court of competent jurisdiction to decide somehow or other. I personally would support the second solution approach as I am of the opinion that copyright law is misappropriated when used to prevent the spreading of information, particularly for educational purposes. My friendly piece of advice to the police would then read: do not misappropriate the law, guys.

 

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8 May 2009

Bulgaria still with highest mobile termination rates


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Mobile-Phone-Mastphoto © 2010 Micky Aldridge | more info (via: Wylio)

The European Commission has set out clear guidance for EU telecoms regulators on the cost-based method to be used when calculating termination rates – the wholesale fees charged by operators to connect the call from another operator’s network which are part of everyone’s phone bill. The guidance is in the form of a soft law

Recommendation

that national regulators are obliged to take “the utmost account” of.

The Recommendation indicates specifically that termination rates at national level should be based only on the real costs that an efficient operator incurs to establish the connection. Eliminating price distortions between phone operators across the EU will lower consumer prices for voice calls within and between Member States, saving business and household customers at least

EUR 2 billion in 2009-2012

and help investment and innovation in the entire telecoms sector.

Mobile termination rates varied widely in the EU in 2008 from 2.00 euro cents per minute (in Cyprus) to 15 euro cents per minute (in Bulgaria). Mobile termination rates (on average 8.55 euro cents per minute) are also typically 10 times higher than fixed termination rates (on average ranging from 0.57 to 1.13 euro cents per minute).