12.18.21

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The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXXVIII: Ensnared in the Tentacles of the SAZAS Octopus

Posted in Europe, Fraud, Patents at 5:23 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Series parts:

  1. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part I: Let the Sunshine In!
  2. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part II: A “Unanimous” Endorsement?
  3. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part III: Three Missing Votes
  4. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part IV: The Founding States
  5. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part V: Germany Says “Ja”
  6. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part VI: A Distinct Lack of Dutch Courage
  7. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part VII: Luxembourgish Laxity
  8. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part VIII: Perfidious Albion and Pusillanimous Hibernia
  9. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part IX: More Holes Than Swiss Cheese
  10. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part X: Introducing the Controversial Christian Bock
  11. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XI: “General Bock” – Battistelli’s Swiss Apprentice?
  12. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XII: The French Connection
  13. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XIII: Battistelli’s Iberian Facilitators – Spain
  14. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XIV: Battistelli’s Iberian Facilitators – Portugal
  15. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XV: Et Tu Felix Austria…
  16. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XVI: The Demise of the Austrian Double-Dipper
  17. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XVII: The Non-Monolithic Nordic Bloc
  18. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XVIII: Helsinki’s Accord
  19. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part IXX: The Baltic States
  20. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XX: The Visegrád Group
  21. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXI: The Balkan League – The Doyen and His “Protégée”
  22. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXII: The Balkan League – North Macedonia and Albania
  23. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXIII: The Balkan League – Bulgaria
  24. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXIV: The Balkan League – Romania
  25. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXV: The Balkan League – Fresh Blood or Same Old, Same Old?
  26. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXVI: A Trojan Horse on the Budget and Finance Committee
  27. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXVII: Cypriot Complicity
  28. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXVIII: Benoît and António’s Loyal “Habibi”
  29. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part IXXX: The EPOnian Micro-States – Monaco and Malta
  30. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXX: San Marino and the Perfidious Betrayal of Liberty
  31. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXXI: The Abstentionists
  32. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXXII: “Plucky Little Belgium”?
  33. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXXIII: Swedish Scepticism
  34. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXXIV: An “Extremely Dubious” Proposal
  35. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXXV: Slovakian Scruples
  36. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXXVI: Serbian Sour Grapes
  37. The EPO’s Overseer/Overseen Collusion — Part XXXVII: Stubbornly Independent Slovenia
  38. YOU ARE HERE ☞ Ensnared in the Tentacles of the SAZAS Octopus

Jurij Zurej, Luka Novak, and Vesna Stankovic Juricic
“Constant changes” in the URSIL leadership between 2012 and 2015 (from l. to r.):
Jurij Žurej, Luka Novak, Vesna Stankovič Juričič.

Summary: In light of Slovenia’s moderate resistance to EPO dictator Benoît Battistelli (before the resistors were removed) we take a closer look at national affairs, which reveal the profound impact of ‘special interest’ lobbyists

In March 2015, shortly before the official announcement of Stankovič Juričič’s departure from the Slovenian URSIL, an article appeared [PDF] in one of the leading national daily newspapers Dnevnik under the headline “Intellectual Property Office: Third departure in three years due to pressure”.

This article explained how the URSIL was being “held hostage” by lobby groups as “evidenced by the constant changes in its leadership”.

The first of these short-lived Directors was Jurij Žurej who was appointed to the position in January 2010.

It would appear that Žurej was nobbled after he crossed swords with the powerful “Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for Copyright Protection in Slovenia” (known as SAZAS).

SAZAZ is a collective management organisation (CMO) or “collecting society”. It describes itself as an “organisation for the collective protection of music copyright” which is “empowered to collect and distribute standard contracts and agreements to composers and authors in Slovenia and abroad”.

“The first of these short-lived Directors was Jurij Žurej who was appointed to the position in January 2010.”The role of SAZAS in Slovenia is comparable to that of the Croatian Composers’ Society (ZAMP) in neighbouring Croatia, which was headed by Ivo Josipović between 1987 to 2000. Josipović subsequently became President of Croatia and is reputed to have been the main political "protector" of Željko Topić in his homeland.

In a manner which has echoes of the Croatian ZAMP affair, SAZAS is reputed to have exerted a nefarious influence over domestic politics in Slovenia, in particular over the affairs of the URSIL. In the Slovenian media, the people who call the shots at SAZAS have been portrayed as an “untouchable elite” who exercise an intransparent and unaccountable control over funds worth millions of Euros. Local copy with translation is available. [PDF]

Matjaž Zupan
President of SAZAS, the singer-songwriter and producer Matjaž Zupan, as depicted in the Slovenian media in 2016.

SAZAS has been on the radar of regulatory authorities in Slovenia since at least September 2007 when the then Director Biserka Strel, reviewed the CMO’s annual report for 2006 and found that a couple of key documents were missing which made it impossible to verify the legality of the society’s activities in relation to the collective enforcement of copyright.

This prompted the URSIL to call on SAZAS to submit the missing documents. It was a move that marked the beginning of a long drawn out power struggle between the regulatory authority and the CMO.

“This prompted the URSIL to call on SAZAS to submit the missing documents. It was a move that marked the beginning of a long drawn out power struggle between the regulatory authority and the CMO.”Sometime later in 2009, the Slovenian Competition Protection Agency (UVK) initiated proceedings against SAZAZ for abusing its dominant position in the collective management market and enforcing music copyrights. The findings of the Competition Protection Agency [PDF] were later upheld by the Slovenian Supreme Court in 2014.

SAZAS for its part did its best to obstruct the efforts of regulatory authorities to bring it under control and it maintained “a well-coordinated team of lobbyists” for this purpose.

SAZAS lobbyists
The investigative website Portal Plus reported [PDF] on the SAZAS “octopus” in July 2016:
“As soon as a ‘dangerous’ law appears, a well-coordinated team of Sazas lobbyists is activated.”

An article published by the investigative website Portal Plus in July 2016, described SAZAS as a “hobotnica”, the Slovenian word for “octopus”. This article attempted to shed light on the lobbying activities of the controversial CMO, claiming that it was primarily responsible for the premature departures of URSIL Directors Jurij Žurej, Luka Novak and Vesna Stanković. It was also claimed that SAZAS had successfully managed to sabotage the planned reform of the Slovenian Copyright and Related Rights Act (ZASP).

“It was also claimed that SAZAS had successfully managed to sabotage the planned reform of the Slovenian Copyright and Related Rights Act (ZASP).”According to the article, following the drafting of amendments to the ZASP at the beginning of 2015 by the Ministry for Economic Affairs in cooperation with the URSIL, SAZAS initiated 41 recorded lobbying contacts in the national parliament in just one month. The relevant figures provided by the Anti-Corruption Commission placed SAZAS in the number one position in terms of lobbying activity.

The first victim to be strangled by the tentacles of this “octopus” was the URSIL Director Jurij Žurej. His well-intentioned attempts to reform Slovenian copyright law in order to improve the accountability and transparency of CMOs like SAZAS meant that his days at the head of the national “IP” office were numbered.

Žurej had only been in his new job at the head of the URSIL for six months when the General Assembly of SAZAS adopted a motion calling for his dismissal, as reported by the Slovenian media in June 2010. Translation here. [PDF]

Shortly afterwards, in July 2010, reports surfaced that SAZAS was under police investigation for allegedly subjecting Žurej to illegal covert surveillance measures and for compiling “social networking” dossiers on several other prominent Slovenians. Translation here. [PDF]

In other media reports (here and here), the persons accused of “shadowing” Žurej on the orders of SAZAS were named as Robert Lavtar and Bojan Bratuša.

“The first victim to be strangled by the tentacles of this “octopus” was the URSIL Director Jurij Žurej.”Lavtar is a “shaman” and founder of the “Gnostic Center of Alternative Altorion”. Bratuša is a less esoteric figure. He was the former head of the covert surveillance department of the Slovenian Intelligence and Security Agency (SOVA) but he left by “amicable agreement” after it emerged that his diploma was a forgery.

Secretary of State Jožef Školč from the left-liberal LDS (a junior coalition partner) was also implicated in the surveillance affair.

Robert Lavtar and Bojan Bratusa
Slovenian “shaman” Robert Lavtar and former secret service agent Bojan Bratuša were accused of “shadowing” URSIL Director Jurij Žurej on the orders of SAZAS.

The conflict between Žurej and his adversaries in SAZAS and their political allies continued to escalate over the next year and a half and it finally came to a head in 2012.

“The conflict between Žurej and his adversaries in SAZAS and their political allies continued to escalate over the next year and a half and it finally came to a head in 2012.”In an article entitled “SAZAS dissatisfied with the work of Juri Žurej”, the Slovenian media reported that SAZAS had filed a complaint against Žurej which led to his suspension from official duty on 5 April 2012.

Following Žurej’s suspension, the management of the URSIL passed into a caretaker administration under long-serving senior official Janez Kukec Mezek, a chemist by profession and, in his spare time, a passionate amateur photographer and an active member of Fotoklub Ljubljana.

Janez Kukec Mezek photo op
Janez Kukec Mezek, a chemist by profession and a passionate amateur photographer, served as caretaker head of the URSIL following Jurij Žurej’s dismissal in May 2012.

Žurej hit back in an interview with Dnevnik in May 2012 in which he gave his side of the story.

In this interview published under the headline “The irony is that SAZAS was transferring money to Switzerland”, Žurej explained that as far as he was concerned, his suspension was politically motivated. He contended that his efforts to investigate suspected irregularities connected with SAZAS had resulted in the ongoing efforts to depose him:

“A serious problem could arise if it were revealed to whom this money was wrongly allocated. Who knows what could come out the moment that the leaders of SAZAS start defending their own interests in the proceedings. That is why I would argue that it is not in the interests of Slovenian politicians – left or right – for the people behind SAZAS to speak out about what happened to the money.”

Žurej stood his ground as best as he could. But the forces agitating for his removal had significant financial muscle and “a well-coordinated team of lobbyists” at their disposal.

In the end, as reported by Dnevnik, Žurej’s adversaries managed to ensure that his tenure at the head of the URSIL was prematurely terminated in May 2012.

“Žurej stood his ground as best as he could. But the forces agitating for his removal had significant financial muscle and “a well-coordinated team of lobbyists” at their disposal.”In the meantime, URSIL remained under the caretaker administration of Janez Kukec Mezek until the end of June 2012 when it was announced that the government had decided to appoint the author, publisher and “TV personality” Luka Novak as Director on an ad interim basis.

As noted in the last part, Novak’s close connections to the SLS party probably helped him to secure this position under the government formed after the 2011 election. The SLS was a junior partner in the centre-right coalition led by Janez Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS).

Even if he may have been a “political appointee”, Novak appears to have done a reasonably good job in his new position at the head of the URSIL. On the international stage, as a delegate on the EPO’s Administrative Council, in stark contrast to most of his peers he certainly wasn’t a passive and compliant puppet of Battistelli. In particular he declined to give an endorsement to the “Strike Regulations” at the 136th meeting of the Administrative Council in June 2013.

But Novak’s days as head of the URSIL were numbered.

“…he declined to give an endorsement to the “Strike Regulations” at the 136th meeting of the Administrative Council in June 2013.”The Janša government fell in February 2013, following a vote of no confidence over allegations of corruption and an unpopular austerity programme imposed in the middle of a severe economic recession. The successor government formed in March 2013 was a centre-left coalition led by the Positive Slovenia (PS) party under Alenka Bratušek.

Novak was initially left in charge of the URSIL, but in August 2013 he was dismissed without warning.

Although no official reasons were given for his dismissal, Slovenian media described him [PDF] as another “victim of the lobbyists”.

The dismissal of Luka Novak
Following announcement of his dismissal, Novak was described as another “victim of the lobbyists”.

According to media reports, the Slovenian government originally planned to nominate the well-known singer-songwriter Andrej Šifrer, as the new Director of the URSIL. The appointment seemed to be in the bag but for some reason it fell through shortly before it was officially confirmed.

“It is suspected that there were last-minute concerns in political circles about the “optics” of such an appointment given the musician’s well-known connections to SAZAS.”Šifrer’s candidacy apparently encountered a “procedural complication” which was never really explained to the public. It is suspected that there were last-minute concerns in political circles about the “optics” of such an appointment given the musician’s well-known connections to SAZAS.

The Slovenian press described the situation as a “Staffing farce at the Intellectual Property Office”. English here. [PDF]

Andrej Sifrer
Staffing farce at the URSIL in 2013: The balladeer Andrej Šifrer almost became Director following Novak’s departure but his appointment fell through at the last minute, probably due to his all too obvious connections with SAZAS.

A politically acceptable successor to Novak was ultimately found in the person of Vesna Stanković Juričić.

“The Slovenian press described the situation as a “Staffing farce at the Intellectual Property Office”.”Stanković Juričić started her professional career at the Slovenian Ministry of Finance, where she drafted regulations in the field of banking and capital markets and, in particular, the establishment of supervision over financial institutions in the Republic of Slovenia during Slovenia’s accession to the EU. She later worked in the private sector as a director of the law office of Hermes SoftLab, one of the leading Slovenian software and IT solutions development companies, and later as head of the corporate finance department of the Sofgen Group, a global banking IT consultancy.

Vesna Stankovic Juricic on sofa
Novak’s successor was Vesna Stanković Juričić whose term of office also ended prematurely.

Stanković Juričić was initially appointed to head the URSIL on an ad interim basis in September 2013. Her appointment for a five year term was confirmed in January 2014.

“Stanković Juričić was initially appointed to head the URSIL on an ad interim basis in September 2013.”But less than a year and a half later, in May 2015, she stepped down.

In an interview published by Dnevnik in March 2015 under the title “Whatever you do at the Intellectual Property Office, somebody will be aggrieved”, Stanković Juričić spoke about her reasons for leaving.

She shared her views on the “intellectual property” system in Slovenia, in particular the still unresolved issues concerning the governance of copyright collecting societies.

“Intellectual property rights will only be meaningful and effective as long as there is good infrastructure, which supports these rights. And collecting societies are a key infrastructure in this area. They should act as an effective economic intermediary, collecting royalties from users on behalf of authors and sharing them. In our country, however, they are becoming states within the state. [...] Every interest is legitimate, but the laws are written by the state, which tries to balance the different interests. We cannot have a law that only satisfies those in charge of the management of the collecting societies. The copyright system is a triangle between the right holder (the author), the rights user and the public interest.

After Stanković Juričić’s departure, there was another temporary caretaker administration under Janez Kukec  Mezek between June and September 2015.

Janez Kukec Mezek
Following Stanković Juričić’s departure in May 2015,the passionate amateur photographer Janez Kukec Mezek, headed another caretaker administration until the appointment of Vojko Toman.

Vojko Toman was appointed as the next Director of the URSIL on an ad interim basis in September 2015 and his appointment was confirmed in September of the following year.

In the next part we will look at how the Slovenian URSIL fared on Toman’s watch.

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