Steven Whittaker on Wed, 28 Jul 2004 02:39:28 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> intellectual property has no triggerguard?


July 26, 2004
Who's a Pirate? Russia Points Back at the U.S.  By C. J. CHIVERS

ZHEVSK, Russia, July 24 - The bazaar in this industrial city shows why
Western companies regard Russia as a land of piracy.

Bootlegged copies of new American movies - "King Arthur,'' "Troy'' and
"Spider-Man 2'' - sell for $3. Photoshop CS, a $600 program in Western
stores, fetches $2.75.

Markets like this, found throughout Russia, have been a longstanding subject
of diplomatic complaint. Washington contends Russian intellectual-property
pirates cost the United States more than $1 billion a year.

Now Russia is striking back. A Russian industry and product designer are
asserting that the United States has been abetting intellectual-property
pirates to suit its own needs, by directing copies of Russian merchandise
around the world.

The complaint is not about software or music. It makes no mention of movies
or video games. It is about the Kalashnikov assault rifle, the most prolific
firearm ever made.

"We see a great number of products which are named after Kalashnikov, my
name,'' said Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the weapon's original designer. "They
are buying Kalashnikovs from other countries,'' he added.

Since the collapses of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's army
in Iraq, the United States has been purchasing or arranging the transfer of
thousands of knockoffs of Kalashnikovs commonly referred to as AK-47's, to
outfit new military and security forces in Kabul and Baghdad.

These rifles have not been made in Russia, where the arms industry holds
patents for the weapon in several nations. Instead they have originated in
weapons plants controlled by Eastern European states, each of which was a
partner of Moscow's in Soviet days.

So begins an argument at once curious, impassioned and bizarre, involving
the legacy of cold war influence jockeying, secretive arms deals, recent
efforts to defeat modern Islamic insurgencies, and international business
and patent law.

The automatic Kalashnikov, made in a factory here, is in many ways Moscow's
Ford. It is a quintessential national product: extraordinarily successful,
widespread, a name closely connected to the identity of a state.

It was designed by Mr. Kalashnikov, a former Russian tank sergeant, in
classified Soviet weapons trials shortly after World War II, and was
promptly embraced by Soviet soldiers for its simplicity and reliability
under almost any condition. It is regarded as a weapon that rarely, if ever,

Russian arms officials say that no other nation has a valid license to make
the AK-47 and its many derivatives and clones, and that to defeat insurgents
and terrorists, Washington has been encouraging violations of intellectual
property rights. Russia is suffering losses in income, jobs and damage to
the Kalashnikov name, the officials say, and would like the United States to
shop for the weapons directly from here.

"We would like to inform everybody in the world that many countries,
including the United States, have unfortunately violated recognized norms,"
said Igor Sevastyanov, who leads a division of Rosoboronexport, Russia's
state-controlled arms export company. American officials confirm that
non-Russian Kalashnikov rifles have been provided with American assistance
to Afghanistan and Iraq. Sometimes the weapons have been transferred via
purchases on international arms markets, they say, other times via the
solicitation of donations from friendly states as a gesture of cooperation
with the Bush administration's war and reconstruction efforts.

The officials also say that they are aware of the Russian complaints, which
raise questions of provenance that remain unresolved.

"We have taken the position that there are important issues with respect to
the production, intellectual property rights and conditions of export of
these weapons, and it is important that we strengthen controls in all of
these areas," a State Department official said. Officials from
Rosoboronexport and Izhmash, the Russian company holding patents on the
rifle, say American-coordinated transfers include Kalashnikov clones made in
Romanian, Bulgarian and Hungarian plants that have continued to be sold
despite Russian complaints.

Another transfer, arranged by the American-led Coalition Provisional
Authority in Iraq last year, involved the purchase of Kalashnikovs from
Jordan. The weapons were believed to be excess stock from the Jordanian
army, and to have been manufactured years ago by the former East Germany,
another State Department official said.

The transfers have been diplomatically delicate; the Jordanian deal drew
complaints from across the political spectrum.

American business representatives have said that American-made rifles should
be bought to preserve American jobs. Others questioned the wisdom of
shipping more automatic rifles to countries already awash in such guns.

Congressman have asked why American forces did not save money by reissuing
to friendly forces the thousands of Kalashnikov rifles confiscated in both

(Last spring, journalists from The New York Times watched United States
marines collect tens of thousands of mint-condition Kalashnikovs in a cache
in a hospital in Tikrit. The weapons were still in their original packing

In spite of complaints, the transfers continued, American officials say, in
part because the automatic Kalashnikov is inexpensive and requires less
training to master than modern American rifles. Several officials noted that
many young Iraqi and Afghan men already know how to use it.

Izhmash and Rosoboronexport agree with this position; their officials are
even proud that the Pentagon prefers the Kalashnikov for its new allies.

But they say Washington's deals have come at the expense of Izhmash and
Izhevsk, where mass production of the rifles began in 1949, and where orders
and the work force have shrunk since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

More than 12,000 people worked on the gun lines then; roughly 7,000 work
there today, and at fewer shifts, said Andrei Vishnyakov, an Izhmash

The officials noted that the low price of Kalashnikov knockoffs can make it
impossible to sell the genuine item, a phenomenon resembling the
underselling of software and DVD's, albeit on a different scale.

For example, the Jordanian rifles sold for about $60 each - less than
one-fourth of the price of a new Kalashnikov from the Izhmash plant,
according to Rosoboronexport data.

"They are selling these rifles at dump prices," said Alexander G. Likhachev,
a former Izhmash director who is now an official with the state arms agency.

He added that Russia wants that business. "We are prepared to manufacture
the genuine weapons, in big quantities, because we know there is a demand,"
he said.

The legal standing of Rosoboronexport's complaint is uncertain. American
officials, analysts and trade representatives said issues surrounding each
transfer would require intensive legal research to resolve.

The task would be daunting. In the 1950's, in a mix of collaborative
revolutionary spirit and jockeying against the West, the Soviet Union began
exporting the rifles and the technology to manufacture them to states in its
sphere of influence. Ultimately, Moscow entered licensing agreements with 18
states, according to Rosoboronexport.

"We transferred and gave them all the technical documentation, all the
know-how about the design," Mr. Kalashnikov, now 84, said in an interview at
his dacha in the Russian woods. "Representatives of these countries came
here. They studied our production line."

Moreover, once the rifle's utility became well known, another 11 countries
began making derivatives and clones without Moscow's approval, the state
agency said.

Russia says that all former licenses have expired. But to make this case,
the old licenses would have to be studied, as would Izhmash's more recently
acquired patents as well as intellectual property laws in each
Kalashnikov-manufacturing state.

A third American official said several former Soviet-bloc countries that
formerly made Kalashnikovs with Moscow's approval contend they retain rights
to the weapon today. "There is a dispute among all the parties involved,"
the official said.

Still, whatever the legal merits, analysts agree: the complaint's symbolic
power is great.

"I'm not a big fan of guns, but that said, if the creators of this
intellectual property have rights to enforce, I really do hope they can get
them enforced in every country," Eric Schwartz, a vice president of the
International Intellectual Property Alliance, said in a telephone interview.
"And I hope that the United States government would comply and set a good

The alliance represents American companies with products protected by
copyright laws.

The complaint also faces the unrelenting realities of the market. After
decades in production in plants in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe,
the automatic Kalashnikov has spread far beyond Izhevsk's reach.

Analysts estimate that 70 million to 105 million of the weapons have been

It has been used not only by more than 55 state armies, but also by the Viet
Cong, militias in Beirut, Palestinian insurgents in Gaza City, guerrillas in
Iraq and child soldiers in Asian and African states. A Kalashnikov is on the
seal of Hezbollah and the flag of Mozambique. It features prominently in the
symbolism of jihad.

Even the United States long ago entered in the Kalashnikov business, in the
1980's, when it surreptitiously bought Chinese and Egyptian Kalashnikovs for
Islamic guerrillas battling the Red Army in Afghanistan.

American purchases of Kalashnikovs have continued intermittently since then.
A few years ago, according to officials at the State Department and the
Pentagon, Washington purchased Kalashnikovs for a Nigerian peacekeeping
force in Sierra Leone.

With so many of the weapons in circulation, one analyst said Russia's
complaint could prove to be an almost impossible fight.

Rosoboronexport's position is like "the Chinese saying they have a royalty
right on every firearm, because that's where it all started with the
invention of gunpowder 700 years ago," said Dr. Aaron Karp, a professor at
Old Dominion University in Virginia who specializes in weapon proliferation

Mr. Kalashnikov, who said the Russian versions of his rifle are superior,
and who expressed deep fondness to Russian workers who have long made them,
recognized the difficulties in the state agency's complaint.

He remembered that years ago President Boris N. Yeltsin vowed to defend the
weapon from market infringement, to no avail. "President Yeltsin said he
would do everything," Mr. Kalashnikov said. "But it's not so easy."

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: