What do Miley Cyrus and the AK-47 have in common?

Steve Johnson
by Steve Johnson

The answer? They are both victims of piracy, or at least that is what the Russian media would have you believe. The issue, from the Russian perspective, is the reverse of the allofmp3.com controversy. Russia accuses the United States and other governments of being complicit in the piracy that costs them $2 billion per year. The issue caused a minor diplomatic incident with Pakistan at a Turkish defense expo last month.

Historical Context

To understand the legal history of the AK-47 you need to understand the intellectual property history of the Soviet Union. Contra to popular belief the communists did not oppose intellectual property (IP). Our Soviet comrades were encouraged to think up inventions, they just has to give the invention to the state! After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution private ownership in general was abolished but IP was overlooked. This oversight was corrected in 1931 when private ownership of IP was banned and the state automatically inherited all rights to inventions. The inventor received some small remuneration in return, presumably only if the invention was used by the state in some capacity.

AK-47 / AKM clone made in Las Vegas by Arsenal Inc.

The Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947

Fast forward about a decade and a young sergeant named Mikhail Kalashnikov starts designing weapons for the Red Army. In 1946 his rifle wins a competition for the next standard issue rifle of the Soviet Union. During the following year the military began adopting the rifle and it was given the infamous designation AK-47, now a household name worldwide.

The Soviet Union was quite happy to allow other communist states to produce the rifle, with many other state and non-state entities around the world producing clones.

The flag of Mozambique featuring the AK-47 alongside a hoe and a book.

The AK-47 patent. Better late than never.

After the fall of communism the Russian Federation and eight other former Soviet Republics formed the Eurasian Patent Organization (EAPC). Izhmash, manufacturer of the AK-74 and AK-10x rifles (AK-47 successors), filed a patent with the EAPC. From the Google Translation of the patent (emphasis added):

Title of invention:
Automatic weapons “Kalashnikov”

Patentovlalelets (ltsy):
Open Joint Stock Company “Izhmash” (RU)

Inventor (s):

Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, Yuri Alexandrov K.,
Bezborodov Nikolai, Viktor Kalashnikov.
Azariah I. Nesterov, Paranin Valery Nikolaevich (RU)

The Eurasian application N: 970145
Priority of invention:

Date of filing of the Eurasian application: July 24, 1997
Date of registration of the Eurasian Patent
in the Register of Eurasian patents: October 10, 1997

The patent was filed over 50 years after the invention! The patent does not mention when the rifle was actually invented. Under United States law patents expire after 20 years. It seems ridiculous that a company can expect to patent an invention half a century after its invention especially at a time when it is so common that people build it by hand in caves!

Ironically the AK-47 is also the weapon of choice for the modern sea pirate.

US Government purchases of AK-47 rifle

Prior to the recent decision to switch the Iraqi Army over over to the M16 and M4, the US Government was purchasing a lot of AK-47 rifles to supply the fledging Iraqi Army. Russia was not happy about the US purchasing AK-47 clones from manufactures who were significantly under cutting Izhmash. From Novinite.com:

The Americans have allowed Bulgaria to built a plant producing the Kalashnikov sub-machine gun to be sold in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Director for Special Assignments of the Russian Rosoboronexport State Corporation Nikolay Demedyuk stated on Wednesday cited by ITAR-TASS.

The Russians stated that the “Arsenal” production was undercutting the gun prices on international tenders citing as example a 2003 tender for the supply of 40,000 sub-machine guns for the Iraqi army for USD 65 each won by Arsenal and lost by the Russian “Kalashnikov” manufacturer.

Russia has claimed it loses $2 billion per year from counterfeit production with only 10% of AK-47 rifles being produced under license.

Iraqi Military Policeman Training with AK-47 rifle.

Last Month in Turkey

There was a minor diplomatic incident last month at the IDEF ’09 defense expo when the Russian delegation discovered that Pakistan Ordnance Factories had AK-47 clones on display. When confronted the Pakistan stated owned defense manufacture refused to remove the display.

Anatoly Aksenov, a senior advisor to the director general of Rosoboronexport (Russia’s sole export intermediary), said in a press release “Russia will ask IDEF-2009’s administration to impose sanctions on Pakistan’s delegation if the counterfeit weapon is not removed from the booth by tomorrow … is piracy and we will struggle against it.”. The Turkish Ministry of Defense, who organized the expo, acted swiftly and the following day the rifles were removed from display.

According to Mr. Aksenov Turkey is looking to purchase Russian short and medium range anti-aircraft systems, which no doubt gave the Russians much leverage with the Turkish Ministry officials.

The Russian media was quick to point out that the World Trade Organization worries itself with Western music, firms and clothing, but not Russian weaponry. From Lenta.ru (Google Translated):

Piracy in the music and film industry, protection of brand clothing manufacturers, food, tobacco and alcohol have long been one of the nabivshih oskominu so when discussing the economy nowadays. Combating concerned authoritative international organizations such as WTO, and thousands of bureaucrats. The trials against the creators of file-networks follow one after another and stable outside the top list of hot news. And the weapons you can not only forge in the huge quantities, but also opened it to show, without fear of any sanctions or condemnation, or loss of reputation.

Will this be resolved?

Russia wants to join the World Trade Organization. Prior to joining the diplomats will have to define the parameters for recognition of patents. It is unlikely the WTO members will want to open themselves to lawsuits from Russian firms over 50+ year old inventions.

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!

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2 of 37 comments
  • Isaac Isaac on Oct 17, 2010

    "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."
    -- Albert Einstein

  • Lumumba Lumumba on Oct 17, 2010

    Fedorov tried to make a weapon based on the 6.5 Arisaka around, but it was a failure of course, due in part to the Soviet political system, which, no surprise, they had copied from Karl Marx. Another problem was the lack of skilled workers. The Soviet weapons had to be easily made by slave labor, which was the basis of the communist system, and that is why they copied the simpler American trigger and rotary bolt systems from the M1 carbine and M1 Garand. The Tokarev was far too unreliable to be used as the basis even for a Soviet weapon.

    The M16 was not a response to the AK, or it would have been poorly made and fired a cut-down version of the US main rifle round, the 30-06 or 7.62x51, the way the AK copied the Stg44 by cutting down the Soviet 7.62x54 the way the Stg cut down the Mauser round to the Kurz version. Instead, the M16 went to the high-velocity small caliber 5.56, which, of course, the Soviets later aped when they came out with the AK74 in 5.45. The other major difference is in sights and employment; the US is much more a believer in individual aim and the M16 is employed primarily in semi-auto, and we qualify at 200, 300 and 500 meters with the M16. The AK will not hit targets at 500m. The AK is designed for units that fight with a mob-mentality, like the winged monkeys from the Wizard of Oz.

    You are correct that the history of technology is an aggregate of humanity's knowledge, but as far as advances, the copying and stealing of ideas between the West and the Soviets has long been running as a one-way street, with the West inventing and the Soviets copying, or trying to copy as much as their limited technological ability allowed. No country on earth could have made the atomic bomb, unless they had the huge amount of money and skilled technicians to do it. There was only one country that managed that, and 70 years later very few countries can do it today, even with all the advances in technology since then. Look at Iran, for example.

    The US developed and used the atomic bomb, and the hydrogen bomb. The USSR stole the design for the atomic bomb from the US, and most of their information for hydrogen bombs was obtained by espionage, not research. The US was the first to detonate a thermonuclear device, and even the one you mentioned that Sakharov designed was not a true thermonuclear. Even when the Soviets finally copied one of ours to make a real one, it was only 1.5 megatons, compared to the 15 megaton the US detonated more than a year prior.

    Rocket launchers were not a Soviet invention. They were in use for centuries before WWII and the British even used them against the US in 1812. Even in WWII, the Germans were the first to use rocket launchers, and employed their Nebelwerfers before the first Katyusha was fired against them.

    The Soviet Socialists were sending their friends the National Socialists food and raw materials for war well after the two socialist dictatorships had partitioned Poland, right up to the start of hostilities. Soviet supply trains passed German armored columns on the border going the other way when the Germans turned on their ally and invaded.

    The Germans got a late start for Moscow, several months late, because they had to deal with the Greeks and British first. This put them in a bad position with regard to weather; had they started on time, they'd have easily taken Moscow before the snow. As it was, they still could have beaten their socialist comrades, were it not for the West. The Soviets were unable to make enough radios or field phones, so they couldn't even coordinate a modern armored offensive. The Soviets couldn't even refine aviation gas for high-performance fighters, and had to rely on the West for that. What they did have was a huge supply of peasants and a reckless disregard for expending them, which led to the huge body counts. The US, even when surprised by German offensives, as at Bastogne, was technologically proficient enough to maintain even KIA/POW ratios, despite the fact that untrained, green troops took the brunt of the German assault.

    The Soviets DID NOT pay back any Lend Lease material. That's the huge difference, not to mention the fact that buying small arms ammo from a vendor is quite different from having another country give you communications gear and advanced airplane fuel that you can not produce yourself.

    The Serbs showed that they could stand up to some of the Western European countries, who made no serious move against them. Then they proved wrong the old adage that a war can not be won by air power alone, as an air attack broke them from the sky in a little more than two months. The MiG's were crushed, being as they were worthless junk, and only two NATO jets were shot down, both by ground fire, which gave the Serbs a little less than one kill per month average. Hardly impressive. Then again, none of the NATO planes were copies of MiG25's or 29's or any of the other backward technology that is feared only by the crowds at international air shows, due to the design's distressing tendency to drop from the sky on spectators.