Thu, Jan 16, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Taiwan: keep walking with IPR

The public outrage in Taiwan over an ad that implied Taiwan goods are substandard by the maker of Johnnie Walker whisky, and the passage of a resolution by Taiwan's Legislative Yuan that urged suspension of sales of the whisky for one year as punishment for the ad would seem to suggest that Taiwanese do care about their country's image. But, the overflow of counterfeit goods, which is becoming an increasingly sore spot in Taiwan's relationship with important trade partners such as the US, would seem to suggest the opposite.

In fact, it was revealed this week that pirated DVDs of the latest James Bond movie Die Another Day are already hot-selling items in night markets. Worse yet, reportedly the pirates were so brazen as to run the line "come get me, if you can, [Minister of Justice] Chen Ding-nan (陳定南)" before the movie on these DVDs.

Surely Taiwanese consumers must know that Taiwan's reputation as a haven for counterfeiting isn't exactly facilitating a positive international image of their country. Yet, counterfeit goods continue to do enormously well.

The reason may be that, as much as Taiwanese care about the image of their country in the international community, any such concern fades in the face of a good bargain. So, money saved from buying pirated CDs and DVDs in night markets at a price less than one-tenth of the sale price of non-pirated copies must mean much more than the international image of Taiwan to many Taiwanese. If that is the case, then the image of this country isn't worth much after all.

Theft of intellectual property is of course not a problem unique to Taiwan. What is unique and almost fascinating about the case, is the way that many purchasers of pirated goods openly claim, in a righteous attitude, that they are doing nothing wrong. During recent negotiations with the Board of Foreign Trade, it must have been an eye-opener for the American side to see so many college students, many of whom were from top universities, protesting against US pressure on the Taiwan government to clean up unauthorized copying of foreign textbooks on campus.

One argument purchasers of pirated goods often raise is that they don't want to pay an arm and a leg for so-so CDs and DVDs, and that it is the movie industry's own fault for not being unable to produce something more marketable. This begs the question, why don't they simply refuse to buy these so-so CDs and DVDs and let the laws of supply and demand work? Their argument falls on its face because top-selling movies and albums on the legal market also happen to be top sellers on the pirated market.

Then there are those who respond by mixing the issues, labeling American pressure to crack down on piracy as foreign oppression, they find justification for refusing to comply with intellectual property rights (IPR) laws.

On Tuesday, during a meeting with US Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., who is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) openly compared IPR infringement with the uncivilized and barbaric conduct of thieves and pirates. Chen certainly put things into perspective. The general public must first concede and realize such conduct is not only morally wrong and downright illegal, but that it is shameful and a national disgrace. Only then, when people stop making excuses, can IPR infringement be curbed.

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