Copyright in Serbia by Saša Ilić

It could be said that the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia – and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia before it – made the most substantial progress in this part of the world, going through rapid modernisation and stabilisation of the state, society and the legal system. Copyright protection, which was unknown until then outside of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was included in the law for the very first time. The collapse of socialist Yugoslavia led to the collapse of human rights, copyright and related rights. Today Serbia, as all other Yugoslav successor states, can only draw upon the legacy of the former federation state. The same applies to the Copyright Act which was passed for the first time in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. Yugoslavia signed the Bern Convention in 1930 and from that moment on we can observe the development of copyright in Serbia and the neighbouring countries.

The Association of Yugoslav Music Authors (UJMA) was established in 1937, with regional centres in Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana. After the Socialist Yugoslavia had been founded, the Copyright Agency was set up by the Government decree. The Agency had its headquarters in Belgrade and offices in all Yugoslav republics. Its role was to protect copyright in all domains of creative output. Four years later, with another decree, the Agency was closed and the task of copyright protection was passed onto various federations and associations of authors. Soon after, the first professional associations were established, such as the Yugoslav Music Authors Organisation (SOKOJ) and the Writers Association, to name just the most well known. In 1954 the Yugoslav Authors Agency was founded. Its main role was to protect copyright, and it lasted until the demise of SFRY in the 1990s.

The Copyright and Related Rights Act had been changed and passed many times during the existence of SFRY, as well as in post-Yugoslav period of Serbia, namely in 1929, 1946, 1957, 1968, 1978, 1998, 2005 and 2009. Very often the changes of borders and dissolution of states created the need for establishment of new legal frameworks and new laws. This was the case in 1998 when the legal system had to reflect the Dayton Agreement, or in 2005 after the disintegration of Serbia and Montenegro federation, or in 2009 following the declaration of independence of Kosovo. Regardless, the Copyright Act has not been observed since 1991, so authors’ rights and the intellectual property have not been protected in Serbia ever since.
The chapter called the 1990s in Serbia needs yet to be written with a special focus on copyright. The lack of copyright protection has had devastating consequences for the established authors, who made their name in Yugoslavia’s big market and marked an era with their creative output. The flourishing of the black market in Serbia in the 1990s led to a period of brutal piracy, primarily of music and film artworks. Those involved in usurping authors’ rights of the most popular Yugoslav bends, such as Azra, Haustor, Ekatarina Velika, Disciplina kičme, Leb i sol, Zabranjeno pušenje, etc, made good money by illegally reproducing and selling music CDs and DVDs on flea markets in Belgrade and elsewhere. Piracy of literary works was present to a less degree, although there were cases when writers found their works illegally copied and sold on the streets.

After the year 2000 and the toppling of the regime of Slobodan Milošević in Belgrade, the task of copyright protection was transferred to the authorities who have tried to regulate the copyright domain. It turned out that this process is a lengthy and a tiresome one. Therefore, it is not likely this process is going to be completed until the negotiations for Serbia’s joining the EU are completed. The negotiations involve all 35 chapters being opened and aligned, out of which Chapter 7 is specifically concerned with the intellectual property.

The lack of copyright in Serbia is glaringly present in the field of electronic and digital media. The 2000s were marked by total anarchy in this domain. Articles used to be reproduced as one saw fit, usually published without permission and/or without credits. To mention just one curiosity: a poem by Predrag Lucić, Croatian satirist, was published on a Serbian news portal, even though no one knew at the time who the author of the poem was. The poem in question was a literary parody of political reality in Serbia and it was simply followed by a comment that the text itself was “generated online”.

Changes introduced to the Copyright Act in December 2012 caused, however, strong resentment within certain professional associations, especially among photographers and journalists. The petition was initiated in order to reverse those changes and to regain the rights taken away from photojournalists and authors who publish their texts in the media. The main objection concerned the fact that the media were increasingly becoming owned by tycoons, who favour the changes (in the Copyright Act) that allow reproduction of content without any remuneration for authors.

A recently finalised court case, which lasted over many years, proved that the battle for protection of copyright in Serbia is a pioneering task. Namely, Dušan Kojić, music author and the frontman of Disciplina Kičme, a new wave band active since 1981, submitted a lawsuit against Serbian Radio Television record company. As a precedent, a court in Belgrade reached the verdict in favour of Dušan Kojić, the copyright owner. Invoking the Copyright and Related Rights Act the verdict was reached against the record company, who was the only benefactor over the last couple of decades, thus unlawfully making huge profit. This verdict could be a watershed and lead to significant structural changes regarding protection of copyright in Serbia. But surely, the authors themselves have to push for strict law enforcement – the state won’t do it on their behalf. At the moment, on its way to the EU, just considering the Chapter 7 guidance is sufficient for Serbia, even though the chapter itself is not being opened yet.

By Saša Ilić

Translated by Svetlana Rakocevic

This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe website on 3 August 2016.

Category: ELit Literature House Europe Observatory

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