CONFLICTING RULINGS IN ARGENTINA CAST DOUBT ON NATION'S PIRACY STANCE

CONFLICTING RULINGS IN ARGENTINA CAST DOUBT ON NATION'S PIRACY STANCE

Reports that Argentina has sanctioned the piracy of computer software are exaggerated, but the country must pass pending legislation to eliminate confusion over two conflicting rulings on intellectual property protection, the Business Software Alliance said.

Responding to reports Wednesday that Argentina's highest court had indirectly sanctioned software piracy, the BSA said the local newspapers in Buenos Aires had misunderstood a legal ruling that appeared to say there were no software protection laws.The reports filtering back to the United States from Argentina are significant, especially because the protection of patents and copyrights has been a bruising issue with Argentina. The Office of the Trade Representative last year removed numerous Argentine products from the Generalized System of Preferences because of a spat on pharmaceutical patents.

Argentina has threatened to slow all intellectual property reforms in response if the Clinton administration this year again hits Argentine products moving under the GSP.

At issue in the news reports is a Dec. 23 decision by the Court of Cassation upholding lower court rulings that did not prosecute an alleged software pirate. The lower court held that the 1933 copyright law did not spell out protection for software - which was not yet invented.

However, dozens of other court rulings have held that, as written, the 1933 law gives judges discretion to assume that software is covered. Courts routinely authorize government raids on pirating operations in Argentina.

''Software piracy is still illegal. But this one case does lead us to reaffirm our position that there are still some clarifications needed in the law there - specifically in regard to criminal damages,'' said Kim Willard, a BSA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.

The organization's legal adviser for Latin American affairs, Los Angeles-based attorney Susan Bunnell, said legislation was introduced in Argentina with BSA support on Feb. 2. The legislation would spell out clearly to judges that software is indeed given protection under the 1933 copyright law.

The BSA is also lobbying for a comprehensive reform by justice officials of the 1933 copyright law.

''We understand that draft will be finalized this month and circulated for broad public review,'' said Ms. Bunnell.