U.S. lawmakers and business leaders have strong words for Russia over its failure to combat the theft and counterfeiting of copyrighted and trademarked U.S. products.  VOA's Victoria Cavaliere reports that U.S. officials say Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization hinges on its commitment to fighting intellectual property theft.

American movies, CDs, and optical disks are big business in Russia.  But U.S. officials estimate the sale and production of these goods is mostly illegal--with a piracy rate of about 70 percent.

The U.S. Trade Office estimates that pirated and counterfeit goods in Russia deplete the U.S. economy of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs. 

American business leaders took their complaints to Congress recently for a hearing on the matter.

Matthew Gerson, a senior vice-president at Universal Music Group, says Moscow has failed to enforce anti-piracy laws or prosecute counterfeiters. "Despite our work with the administration, despite interactions between the United States and Russia at the highest levels, piracy is growing."

Experts say intellectual property theft affects every corner of the globe.  They say the practice is fueled by organized crime rings, and money from the sale of pirated goods routinely ends up in the hands of terrorists and gun runners.

"Two years ago, a thug shot at the car that was driven by our anti-piracy investigator,? said Bonnie Richardson, a senior vice-president with the Motion Picture Association of America.  ?The incident occurred just after a major raid against a pirate facility.  It was a clear effort to intimidate our anti-piracy team."

The business executives and several U.S. lawmakers, including California Representative Howard Berman, say Russia must be held to account before it is rewarded with entrance into the World Trade Organization. 

He drew a comparison with China, which joined the WTO in 2001, but has failed to combat rampant piracy. "We have an opportunity now when trying to address the piracy situations in Russia to learn from our failures with intellectual property enforcement in China, this came up at the last hearing.  Before permitting Russia's accession to the WTO, we must require stricter enforcement of intellectual property rights."

For its part, Russia has pledged to crackdown on counterfeiters and protect intellectual property rights.