Wed, Feb 19, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Pirates have government under siege

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY Poor efforts to stamp out illegal music and film copying operations nationwide are likely to result in Taiwan remaining on the 301 watch list

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

Premier Yu Shyi-kun's plans to beef up Taiwan's anti-piracy measures may be too little too late to get the nation removed from the US' Special 301 Watch List, pundits said yesterday.

"I get a little concerned when there are these Johnny-come-latelies -- people who at the very last minute right before the Special 301 report -- come through with sudden announcements they're now going to take intellectual property seriously," John Eastwood, a lawyer at Winkler Partners (博仲法律事務所) and co-chair of the Intellectual Property Committee of the European Chamber of Commerce in Taipei said yesterday. "Where were these people the last couple years?"

Eastwood's counterpart at the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Taipei was also unconvinced of the efficacy of Yu's move.

"My suspicion is that [Premier Yu's announcement] is too late," said Jeffrey Harris, co-chair of the chamber's Intellectual Property Committee and director of Orient Commercial Enquiries, a consulting firm specialized in IPR. "This should have been done last year."

For five years Taiwan has been included on the US' Special 301 Priority Watch List of serious violators of intellectual property rights. The annual review of the list is expected to take place in April. Violators of the Special 301 -- a clause of the US Omnibus Trade Act of 1988 -- could face possible trade sanctions, but to date no action has been taken against Taiwan.

In advance of the review of the Special 301 list, the premier announced Monday that he was increasing the reward for tip-offs leading to the arrest of pirated music, movie and software disk manufacturers from NT$1 million to NT$10 million.

Last year the value of counterfeit products seized by the government increased by 20 percent to top NT$8 billion, but the number of prosecutions for movie piracy, for example, fell by 36 percent to just 671 cases, according to the Motion Picture Association of Taiwan. Punishment for copyright infringement handed down by local courts rarely exceeds six months in jail, despite this being the minimum sentence according to the law. And with prison time readily converted to a fine of NT$900 per day, the legal system does little to deter IPR violators.

While welcoming the increased reward for reporting offenders as "a step in the right direction," AmCham's Harris expressed disappointment by the slow progress Taiwan has made in tackling IPR infringement.

"Even though last year was the year of IPR, very little was actually done to tackle the IPR problem," he said.

Eastwood also offered some praise for the government's efforts, giving it full marks for getting IPR protection laws on the statute books in advance of Taiwan's entry into the WTO in January 2002. "Now they have to provide effective protection of those rights," he said.

Other areas where this is a problem -- Thailand, Indonesia, China -- are developing economies. Taiwan is the only first-world economy that is a "piracy haven," Eastwood said. A place such as Taiwan, that prides itself on the prowess of its technology sector, should be more focused on the protection of intellectual property, he said.

And it's not just a problem for foreign companies. Taiwan's own entertainment industry is suffering.

"The local recording industry is being killed by piracy," Harris said.

One in two disks sold in Taiwan is a fake. "You can burn 20,000 disks in five or six hours and ship them out," Harris said. "That is very hard to attack."

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