UKRAINE: Visiting the 'Unofficial Market' Commentary
UKRAINE: Visiting the 'Unofficial Market'
Edited by:

Aleksandra (Sasha) Williams, Pitt Law '10, files from Kiev:

The whole is often greater than the sum of its parts, especially if some of those parts do not make it into a suitcase during a 20 minute frantic packing effort with the airport taxi already waiting outside. Thus, a digital camera missing a battery charger is far less useful than one might imagine. I hate to admit it, but once my battery finally died, I fondly thought of Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, Kiev does not have one. Neither does it have the kind of battery or the charger I need anywhere outside of the few and far away official Sony distributor stores. But Kiev has Petrivka – one of several "unofficial markets" located in the heart of Kiev. Quite a few people suggested I look there for anything I may need. So I did.

Although Petrivka has some legitimate vendors, it can aptly be described as a massive intellectual property rights violation with occasional counterfeit and stolen property booths. Despite the official legislative and executive efforts to crack down on production and distribution of pirated and unlicensed goods, this particular "black market" continues to thrive. To be fair, it used to do a lot better a decade ago, when no enforceable laws hindered any of its operations. Then in 2000, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's parliament) made the first substantial step towards protecting intellectual property rights by revising its Criminal Code to introduce criminal liability for manufacture, distribution, sale and purchase of pirated goods. However, enforcement of this law against large-scale manufacturers and distributors proved to be difficult, and by 2002 the United States imposed trade sanctions on Ukraine. The sanctions were eventually lifted in 2005 after the Verkhovna Rada, closely advised and supervised by the US, passed legislation that gave more teeth to law enforcement and lowered the threshold for criminal and civil liability. In turn, the US government managed to convince Microsoft and several other companies to use "dynamic pricing" which allowed Ukrainian consumers to buy licensed products for a fraction of their "western" cost. Together with frequent inspections, seizures and legal actions against offenders this significantly slowed down the black market bustle.

However, Petrivka stoically endured these difficulties and emerged relatively unscathed. It had to scale down and start camouflaging its illegal operations. Most vendors also now offer a choice between a much more expensive "licensed" item and its "unlicensed" version. Nonetheless, Petrivka is far from going under. For example, Sex in the City DVDs were available here well before the movie came out in the Kiev theaters on June 19. Also, after seeing most of Kievans dressed head to toe in Gucci and Dior, it becomes abundantly clear that most of their designer threads did not come from the obscenely overpriced boutiques, especially considering that Petrivka offers knockoffs for $5-$50. Finally, according to several polls, about 90% of all computers within Kiev ran pirated software as recently as a year ago.

Little separates these seemingly benign scams from others with grave consequences. The same "black markets" that, like Petrivka, offer bootleg books and fake Chanel bags also sell contaminated or expired medications and substandard equipment that can cause industrial accidents. Besides, "unofficial trade" violates numerous laws, tax codes, licenses, embargos and other regulations used by nations to organize and enforce rules. As for my battery charger, I sincerely hope that I at least gathered some good professional ethics karma by not buying it at Petrivka, because the one I ended up purchasing cost twice as much.

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