by Christina Dimitrova

Forget smugglers, drug dealers and pimps - internet pirates are the biggest threat to Bulgarian society

We are a nation of criminals - internet pirates downloading free music and films. We should all be arrested and put in jail. At least, that was the message behind the government's latest measures in the fight against organised crime.

Since all of Bulgaria's big time criminals like smugglers, murderers, drug dealers, mafia bosses, pimps and thieves are already safely behind bars, it seemed it was high time that the State did something about the millions of teenagers and otherwise respectable people stealing from Bill Gates, the members of the BSA, the MPAA and the RIAA.

As a result of a recent move by the General Directorate for Combating Organised Crime GDBOP, a large national Internet provider, BTC ADSL, limited its subscribers' access to a website. I am not a lawyer and can't say whether it was a legitimate order or not, but if lawyers are saying it was illegal, then to me it is illegal. However, other ISPs, big and small, refused to filter access to the website in question.

Bulgaria is also probably one of the few countries in which the police have effectively imposed the duty of searching for illegal content on servers and compiling lists of "criminals" onto Internet providers. I am not going to defend the torrent trackers, neither am I going to attack them. Like most Bulgarians, sometimes I use torrents to download things, sometimes I buy a CD or a DVD. Sometimes I download a CD or a concert DVD, listen to it or watch it and like it so much that I go and buy a legal copy (if I can find it in Bulgaria).

Sometimes I even buy a legal download with my credit card. I guess the fact that I have downloaded material from torrent trackers makes me a criminal and also makes most of my friends criminals too.

Yes, there is the issue of stealing from Bill Gates and the fat cats in MPAA and RIAA, and I am ashamed that my favourite rock stars' kids will go to bed hungry tonight. I feel bad about the Bulgarian pop stars who are also telling me that "Piracy Robs", but I haven't even downloaded their albums. There are a few Bulgarian bands that I like, and I own legal copies of their albums and go to their concerts to support them.

But that is not the point. The point is that the actions of the GDBOP against the largest torrent trackers on the Bulgaria, Arenabg and Zamunda sites, appear to be nothing more than an ill-disguised attempt to protect the interests of a private company, whose name I am not going to disclose, which wants to sell pay-to-view films.

The other conspiracy theory which is circulating on the forums and the blogs is that since the advent of the torrent trackers the illegal CD and DVD trade in the centre of Sofia on Slaveykov Square, is losing money.

If rumours are true, the once lucrative pirate CD and DVD business there, is one of the many ways the local mafia makes money.

To return to the pay-to-view company, in a country where most people download free music and films from the internet it seems inevitable that the pay-to-view business is doomed. So it is logical that this company will try to do something about it. It is not logical, however, that the GDBOP, which, as its name suggests has far more important things to do, should storm into companies' offices without a court order, wearing bullet-proof vests and balaclavas, and demand that they filter access to torrent trackers. It is unthinkable that this should happen in a modern EU member state. Even more so that a private ISP would instantly carry out the order, without even wanting to see a court decision backing it up.

Suddenly Bulgaria is starting to resemble Iran or China, where the state controls access to websites and private companies are happy to oblige. Maybe next month the state will limit access to Google because it offers access to free books. Maybe the month after next it will limit access to certain blogs which criticise the government. Maybe tomorrow the GDBOP will come to arrest me for downloading the latest episode of "Lost" from Arenabg.

Meanwhile, the MPs who question Interior Minister Rumen Petkov about the legality of the GDBOP's actions against the torrent trackers will be accused of trying to please teenagers. Not that teenagers can vote.

All the pirates will wait for the European Parliament to pass the new legislation on Intellectual Property Rights: criminal sanctions to fight piracy and counterfeiting, which explicitly decriminalises piracy committed by private users for personal, non-profit purposes.


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