Taiwan needs to maintain its momentum in the fight against piracy as criminals become more sophisticated, US intellectual property rights (IPR) experts and officials urged Taiwanese counterparts at a seminar in Taipei yesterday, as both sides try to revive faltering free-trade agreement (FTA) talks.
"Because IP pirates will only get smarter and bolder, Taiwan will have to make a permanent commitment to constantly improve its IPR regime if it is to keep the criminals at bay," Douglas Paal, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, said yesterday.
Talks between Taiwan and the US on establishing an FTA have been on hold for months after the US accused Taiwan of not being serious about stamping out copyright infringement, particularly of movies, music and software. The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), which represents 1,350 companies in the US' creative industries, claims that pirated goods made in Taiwan cost US businesses US$756 million last year.
Taiwan was not always such a serious IPR offender.
"There was a period in the 1990s when Taiwan had this licked," IIPA president Eric Smith said yesterday, adding that Taiwan "should not rest on old laurels."
"There is nothing that we would like better than for our industries -- and we represent about 5 percent of the US economy -- to go out and tell the Congress and tell the Administration that we support an FTA with Taiwan," he told the Taipei Times in an interview yesterday.
"But we can't do that when we've gone from an 8 percent piracy rate for sound recordings to a 48 percent piracy rate, and in motion pictures from 10 percent to 44 percent. Something's not right and that needs to be fixed," he said.
In face of international criticism, Taiwan set up a 210-member police task force to improve its record in catching CD, DVD and video CD bootleggers. As of last month, the optical disc task force raided 995 illegal factories, more than three and a half times the 297 raids in the whole of last year, Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Yi-fu (
The raids resulted in the confiscation of more than 300,000 discs worth US$3 million and 18 industrial-scale disc copiers. Raids in night markets now average 336 each month and as a result around 300 million illegal discs have been found dumped as street stall holders ditch their incriminating stocks.
"This shows that the distribution of pirated optical discs has been prevented from reaching domestic sale points," Lin said.
But Lin's claims that deterrents are now stronger in Taiwan, citing the heaviest penalty ever of six-and-a-half years in prison meted out to an illicit game and pornography DVD producer from the Linkou industrial area in October, were met with skepticism.
The courts regularly hand out sentences less than six months that can be converted to fines, according to Michael Ellis, a vice president at the Motion Picture Association's Hong Kong regional office.
"It's just a money game," he said. "In Hong Kong, someone caught on the street selling 140 illegal DVDs was sent to prison for nine months. There was no way out of it."